06/12/2012 01:53 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Lawyer defends coach expelled for skipping ceremony

A high-profile St. John's lawyer who is representing a coach expelled because his team did not attend an opening ceremony and a banquet says Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador has behaved horribly in meting out discipline.

"I think this is inherently unfair, unjust and certainly does nothing to promote hockey for kids in Newfoundland and Labrador," said Bob Simmonds, who has agreed to represent Mount Pearl Junior Blades coach Brian Cranford, who claims he is being penalized for putting education ahead of sports ceremonies.

In a story that this week is making international headlines, HNL kicked Cranford out of the organization for one year and fined the team $2,000 because no one from the organization attended ceremonies during an Atlantic Canadian tournament in St. John's in April.

Cranford said his students needed to study for and attend exams, and their university and work schedules were already heavy enough that he had trouble icing teams during the April tournament.

Simmonds told the St. John's Morning Show Tuesday that many aspects of the story baffle him.

"Their games were at 12 and 3 p.m., right in the middle of April, right in the middle of the university exam schedule," Simmonds said. "I don't know who schedules a tournament like that, but you have to be sure that it's going to run into problems like this."

Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador says its disciplinary action — which was upheld by an appeal — was reasonable, and that it followed policies and procedures for how regional hockey tournaments are organized.

Can't find evidence

But Simmonds said he has yet to be able to find written evidence of such penalties that meet those who fail to attend opening ceremonies or a banquet.

"There's nothing in the policy or the bylaws," Simmonds said.

"The only thing there is that if you don't have someone there at the ceremonies, you forfeit the per diem, which Mount Pearl — as a gentlemen's team — had already agreed to do because they were so close to St. John's."

Cranford has insisted he informed a tournament organizer that no one from the Blades would be able to attend the ceremonies. Simmonds said the proposed penalties were not told to Cranford until a disciplinary letter arrived in the mail.

Education comes first: player

Luc Dearing, a player on the Blades, said his teammates had excellent reasons for not making the ceremonies.

"Almost every player on our team is involved in school, and when you think about it, Junior B hockey is just a hobby, really," Dearing told CBC News.

"Everybody who plays the game loves it, but you're obviously going to put your schooling first."

Dearing said if two or three players had attended the ceremonies, it would have cast a bad light.

"[That] was all we could have got because of exams, [and] then it would have been more embarrassing to the team than anything else."

National appeal planned

Simmonds said his first action will be to appeal to Hockey Canada. If that is unsuccessful, he said he would confer with Cranford and the Blades organization to determine whether to go to the courts.

Simmonds said he feels the punishment is draconian, particularly since Cranford, a retired police officer, has volunteered as a coach for decades.

He said the appeal process — in which Cranford was not able to speak to the allegations against him — was lacking.

"You don't go out and suspend people without giving them some kind of natural justice or a fair hearing," he said.