VICTORIA, B.C. - A minor league hockey player who told a B.C. court that fighting and trash talking are part of the game has been found not guilty of assault causing bodily harm in connection with an on-ice incident last season.
Robin Gomez, a former member of the ECHL's Victoria Salmon Kings, was charged after Las Vegas Wranglers player Chris Ferraro was punched in the face and knocked unconscious during a game in Victoria last March.
In his ruling Thursday, Provincial Court judge Mike Hubbard said hockey is a sport of implied consent where players can expect physical contact and verbal abuse.
"Hockey would be a better game without the trash talking and the fighting," he said.
Hubbard said he considered the level of rough play and the potential for violence even greater in the ECHL than the National Hockey League.
Crown spokesman Neil Mackenzie said prosecutors decided to press charges in the incident because they believed it went beyond what is considered implied consent in hockey.
"When we reviewed the file it was the Crown assessment that the charge approval standard was met and that Mr. Gomez's action went beyond the scope of any implied consent," he said.
"But ultimately the court wasn't satisfied of that beyond a reasonable doubt."
Mackenzie said the case will be the subject of a review and it was too early to comment on the possibility of an appeal.
Outside court, Gomez, 27, said violence has always been a part of hockey and will likely never be removed from the game.
"I'm just glad this is behind me and I can move on with the rest of my life," he said.
Lawyer Jordan Watt, who teamed up with his father Alexander Watt to defend Gomez for free, said he comes from a family passionate about hockey.
He said assault cases involving hockey players are a grey area of the law and each case is dependent upon its individual facts.
Ferraro testified that he didn't see the punch coming as Gomez hit him when he stepped onto the ice from the players' bench.
During his testimony, Gomez told the judge that fighting is part of hockey and that Ferraro was verbally taunting him as he skated by the Salmon Kings bench.
Gomez was suspended by the league following the incident. He is no longer a member of the Salmon Kings.
He said he's still looking for a team to add him to their roster, and believes he can play hockey professionally for another year or two.
Watt said he and his father took the case in part because they believed the Salmon Kings and the ECHL did not do enough to support Gomez for the game-related charge.
"In our opinion the team basically turned their back on him," said Watt. "My father and I took this case on pro bono, because we believe in the issue, and we fought for him."
Gomez's parents, Moe and Kathy, were in the courtroom when the not guilty verdict was read.