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Kugel can apply for reinstatement to OHL next season
Sat. Nov. 28, 1998.

Windsor Spitfires forward Jeff Kugel, handed a 25-game suspension and lifetime ban from the Ontario Hockey League for coming off the bench and belting opposition players in an Oct. 25 game, could be playing again in the league at the start of next season.

OHL commissioner David Branch softened his hardline stance on Kugel's punishment following a lengthy appeal yesterday and said the 18-year-old can apply for reinstatement at the end of the season.

Branch did not give any guarantee that such an application would be accepted. He did say the player will be asked to do community work to demonstrate his remorse.

Kugel, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound forward left the bench in a game against the Owen Sound Platers and sucker-punched Juri Golicic. Kugel, in a frenzied state, then chased another player around the ice. He is the sixth player to be given an OHL lifetime ban.

``What I saw today for the first time was the acknowledgement that what he had done was certainly inappropriate,'' Branch said. ``He understood that there had to be certain sanctions. As well he expressed extreme remorse and was really pleading for another opportunity.

``And I think those things certainly weighed heavily on my mind - and just finding out more about him as a person and meeting his family and seeing the values that they obviously have.''

Following Kugel's formal appeal hearing, in which the OHL board of governors heard petitions from Kugel, his Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, Windsor Spitfires owner Steve Riolo and governor Vince Bassmen, the board voted to uphold Branch's original ruling and left the matter in the commissioner's hands.

``I showed remorse,'' Kugel said of his personal plea to Branch. ``There were several things I know I did wrong. It's a rough game and there are times you have to know when to stop.''

Kugel waited nervously with his parents, Robert and Kathleen, and his younger brother for more than two hours before Branch offered to adjust his sentence.

``When I first heard, I was a bit disappointed but at least this is something to look forward to in the future,'' said Kugel. ``I didn't want to leave and go play in a semi-pro league right now.

``I need a few more years of development. Without this, it would have shut my door to any hope at all. But at least now, it sounds positive and it looks positive for the future.''

Neither of his parents would speak after the decision but before the hearings the mother spoke to The Star.

``We thought it would be a three- to 10-game suspension for leaving the bench,'' Kathleen said. ``It was one punch. He didn't go out and beat the guy senseless. Jeff went out to even it up. He's not a vicious person and he didn't do it viciously. He went around the rink clapping and waving his hands in celebration. They do it football and baseball . . . they all do it.''

Kugel, a native of Roseville, Mich., said he will probably play with a Tier II team the rest of the season. The Spitfires said they would waive Kugel's rights if he wanted to play in the Western Hockey League or Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Those two leagues have hedged on whether he could play for them.

``From what I've heard so far, the Quebec and Western League are going to respect the suspension, so odds are probably I won't be able to play there anyways,'' said Kugel.

Riolo said he could live with Branch's decision.

``We feel it was a pretty good compromise,'' he said.

Greenspon said Kugel would not likely pursue the matter further in court.