Twenty players on the Tri-City Americans Hockey Club refused to play their Western Hockey League game at the Tri-Cities Coliseum against the Portland Winter Hawks Saturday.
The revolt surrounded Bill LaForge, hired by Americans’ owner Ron Dixon Dec. 17 to become director of hockey operations.
A player for the Americans who requested anonymity telephoned the Tri-City Herald on Saturday and said: “We won’t play until Bill LaForge is out of the organization. If LaForge is fired, we might play (Sunday) in Portland.”
Management of the two WHL clubs agreed that the game would be considered canceled, but the prospect of the teams playing their scheduled game today in Portland remained uncertain.
Efforts to reach Dixon by phone were unsuccessful.
WHL President Ed Chynoweth, in a telephone interview from his home in Calgary, Canada, said: “We are attempting to get the players to agree to play in Portland. I have offered my services as the arbitrator to sort out their differences.”
LaForge, 38, came to the Americans after being fired as coach of the Niagara Falls Thunder of the Ontario Hockey League. LaForge has a 4-14-2 record this season.
“What can I say,” LaForge said Saturday. “I thought that when I came everything was copacetic.”
The player said the team met for seven hours Friday night and decided to revolt.
“We had come back from Christmas break and had two days of practice (with Coach Rick Kozuback) before LaForge showed up,” he said. “It was the best two days of practice we’ve ever had.
“Then Friday afternoon, LaForge comes in and takes over. He didn’t even introduce himself. He just starts swearing at us and telling us what he’s going to do to us. We wanted to give him a chance. He just lost it. He turned everybody off. We want him out of here.”
LaForge said that he and Kozuback spoke with the players at the hotel earlier Saturday.
“I told them last night that I would not go behind the bench (and coach),” LaForge said. “If they want to play for Rick, that’s fine. I’m only here to help them win in the long term, not the short term. I’m here to prepare the (50-man protected) list for the future.”