Youth hockey coach arrested after fight with parent

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The head coach of a Connecticut youth hockey team has been charged with assault after allegedly beating up the father of a player on an opposing team.

Frank Ruocco, 40, the head coach of the Connecticut Wolves peewee team, and the other man, Lawrence Smith, 39, of Greenfield Center, N.Y., were arrested after an off-duty police officer broke up the fight Sunday morning outside the Northford Ice Pavilion in North Branford.

Police said the incident began when a referee threw Smith out of the arena, where the 11- to 13-year-olds from Connecticut were playing CD Select, a team from Albany, N.Y.

Smith had allegedly been swearing at some of the Wolves players, said Michael Doody, deputy chief of the North Branford Police Department.

After the game, which Connecticut won 6-3, Ruocco confronted Smith and the two began fighting.

Ruocco, of Cheshire, told police that he retaliated after Smith pushed him and poked him in the eye. Smith suffered facial cuts and other injuries and was sent to Yale-New Haven hospital.

“No child should ever be berated with expletives or physically intimidated by an adult,” Ruocco said Monday in a written statement. “When encountered outside the rink and questioned about his behavior, (Smith) chose to escalate the situation by physically assaulting me and the unfortunate incident ensued.”

Phone and e-mail messages seeking comment were left Monday for Smith and the CD Select organization.

Ruocco has been suspended as a coach pending a hearing on the incident, said Jim Lanza, the president of the Connecticut Hockey Conference, which governs youth hockey in Connecticut.

“There is no place for this in the sport,” Lanza said. “He’s going to be dealt with swiftly and severely.”

Lanza said this is the first incident this season involving a Connecticut youth hockey program. There are over 20,000 children involved in 43 youth hockey programs across the state, he said.

The Northeast has had several highly publicized hockey-related assaults in recent years.

In November, a brawl in the stands at a youth hockey game in Rome, N.Y., left a man with a fractured skull and led to the arrests of two women.

In 2005, a Swampscott, Mass., man was sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to write a letter of apology after admitting he shook and cursed at an 8-year-old player during a youth hockey game.

And Thomas Junta of Reading, Mass., was convicted of manslaughter after he beat another father to death at a hockey practice in 2000.

Ruocco is due in court Feb. 7 to face charges of third-degree assault. Smith is charged with breach of peace, a misdemeanor.

“It’s really a problem of over-involved parents,” Lanza said. “This group is a highly visible minority, and unfortunately something like this obscures all the good that youth sports does for all the kids involved.”

AP-ES-01-29-07 2037EST

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