07/19/2012 03:32 EDT | Updated 09/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Newfoundland hockey coach who let players study has his suspension overturned

MOUNT PEARL, N.L. - Hockey Canada has overturned the suspension of a Newfoundland junior hockey coach who allowed his players to study for exams instead of attending the opening and closing ceremonies of a major Atlantic tournament.

Brian Cranford, the coach of the Mount Pearl Junior Blades team, received a one-year ban from Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador last month after his team was a no-show for the events at last April's Don Johnson Cup Championship.

But in a letter to the provincial organization dated Thursday, a Hockey Canada appeal committee said it was reversing that decision.

In the letter, the committee says there is no dispute that Cranford breached the tournament's rules.

But it says Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador went too far, adding that the penalties for such a breach allow for a loss of the team's performance bond and per diems.

"It would be unreasonable to apply additional discipline against the appellant," says the letter, signed by Allan Matthews, the chairman of the national appeals committee.

"A reasonable person would assume that any sanctions for failing to appear at the two tournament events would be limited to those set out in the regulations."

The committee says the suspension should be lifted immediately.

At the time he was suspended, Cranford said the tournament took place during university final exams and the team chose to put education before hockey.

He said it was not the team's intention to be disrespectful and that he'd notified organizers in advance.

Cranford could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

Murray Roberts, vice-president of Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador, said the organization is still reviewing the decision but will tighten tournament rules in future.

He said Cranford's team could not be penalized with the loss of a $1,000 per diem for the two days it breached tournament rules because it was playing at home.

The decision was therefore made to suspend Cranford, Roberts said in an interview.

Roberts stressed that, despite how the dispute flared nationally as an education-versus-hockey water cooler story, it was never about pitting sports against school.

It was about how Cranford's team as the representative for Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador was conspicuously absent from both tournament ceremonies, he said.

"This wasn't a Saturday afternoon hockey game where his whole entire team missed the Mary Brown's banquet. This was an Atlantic championship that we held with the highest regard.

"We have a host committee in each province each year that works their butt off for a full year to put this in place — a very prestigious event. We hold it in the highest regard and we feel he should do the same."

The tournament included two teams from Newfoundland, and one each from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I.

Still, Roberts had high praise for Cranford who has been honoured for his volunteer coaching in the past.

"At the end of the day, Brian Cranford has been an extremely good coach for Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador in various capacities over the last 20 years. He's a very technically sound coach. But we believe that he was ultimately responsible for his team."