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Windsor Spitfires forward banned from OHL for life
Tues. Nov. 3, 1998.

WINDSOR, Ont. (CP) - In one of toughest penalties in junior hockey history, the Ontario Hockey League has suspended a member of the Windsor Spitfires for life.

Jeff Kugel, a six-foot-seven, 265-pound forward, was kicked out of the OHL for coming off the bench and slugging an unsuspecting member of the Owen Sound Platers during a brawl in a game Oct. 25 in Windsor.

"I am of the opinion that this was an extreme and unprovoked act of violence," OHL commissioner Dave Branch said Monday in handing down the expulsion after holding a hearing last Thursday with Kugel and top league and team officials.

Kugel's teammates were stunned, saying the league had gone too far.

"It's ridiculous," said Spitfire left-winger Blair Stayzer. "I don't know how they can suspend him for life from the league when there's players that have done worse things and they get a little slap on the wrist.

"I think it's hurting his development as a player and as a person. He's a great guy to have around and I don't think is right."

Branch, who is also president of the umbrella Canadian Hockey League, said Kugel was straightforward and honest during his hearing, telling Branch he thought his role with the Spitfires was that of a tough guy.

"We recognize hockey is a tough game, you have to be tough to play it," said Branch, who added that he handed down the suspension reluctantly because of Kugel's openness.

"But when you have these acts, where a player could have been seriously injured and when you have concerns about the welfare and well-being of the players in your league you have to send the proper and appropriate signal."

Branch officially suspended Kugel for 25 games, but said the player would not be allowed in the OHL even when that suspension ends. The OHL will not oppose Kugel playing in another league after his 25-game ends.

Kugel was not the only player suspended because of the brawl.

Windsor defenceman Mark Ridout was suspended for five games while Owen Sound forward Sean Avery was hit with an eight-game suspension. The Platers' Adam Mair was suspended for two games while Owen Sound coach Dave Siciliano was also given a two-game suspension.

The Platers were also fined $1,000.

Some of Kugel's Windsor teammates were hoping Branch might change his mind.

"I think he knows he went a little overboard, but there's been incidents way worse than what he's done and I feel that (the suspension) is a little unfair," said Spitfire goalie Ron Vogel. "Hopefully, the league will see that, too."

"He didn't hurt anyone," added Mike Martin. "He was just sticking up for his teammates. If the league would see that as something wrong and kick him out of the league for that, (then) I don't know what they're thinking."

© The Canadian Press, 1998