Judge Harold Porter delivered his verdict at provincial court in Grand Bank Tuesday.
Porter outlined the circumstances leading up to the confrontation in his written decision.
On Feb. 20, 2015, two teams from Marystown and Fortune were playing at Kaetlyn Osmond Arena in Marystown.
As the game was meant to be a recreational, non-contact game of hockey, some of the players were not wearing all of the usual protective equipment. The game, however, was a tense affair, described by witnesses as “chippy,” and emotions remained high after the matchup.
Of particular note during the game, Porter said, was a collision on the ice between Sean Collins, playing for Fortune, and Legge, a member of the Marystown team.
Collins did not testify at the trial and Legge said the collision was accidental. No penalty was called on the play, but some members of the Fortune team were upset, including George Collins, brother of Sean Collins.
At the end of the game, both teams were leaving the ice for their respective locker rooms at the same time — resulting in a logjam of players from both teams — in a space that is fairly confined, when a melee ensued.
During the trial, a number of witnesses described the events that followed, Porter said, with significant discrepancy between the testimonies.
The complainant, a player with the Fortune team who was not named in Porter’s written decision, testified George Collins had been standing behind him as they made their way to the locker room. The complainant said he was then punched unexpectedly in the face by Legge, causing a tooth to go through his upper lip and effectively knocking him out.
Just prior, the complainant said Legge and Collins had been arguing back and forth, the complainant saying he told them to both stop it.
During the trial, George Collins claimed there had been dirty play during the game with Legge in particular “hitting everyone” and not “playing clean.”
Collins testified he was involved in some “bickering and chirping” after the game, including an exchange with Legge whereby the two men cursed and swore at one another as they were leaving the ice.
Then with the complainant separating them, Collins said Legge “sucker punched” the complainant, dropping him to the ground, resulting in momentary chaos as the players tried to break up the fracas.
Legge also gave his own version of the events during the trial.
After arguing with George Collins, Legge said he went up the stairs to go to the Marystown dressing room, but some of the Fortune players followed. Legge said he was hit in the head and then turned around and struck the person who had delivered the blow.
The man fell down, got back up again and grabbed him, Legge said. The other players then separated them and everyone dispersed to the dressing rooms.
Legge was taken to the police station in Marystown, he said. Once he got home, he had his fiancée take photographs of his own injuries, which were tendered into evidence during the trial.
The pictures clearly showed marks and bruises on Legge’s neck, back and under his arms. One photograph showed blood on Legge’s face, which Legge said belonged to the complainant. It got there after the complainant jumped back up and grabbed Legge, after Legge hit him, he said.
Porter said there were serious limitations on the weight to be placed on the evidence from the complainant, saying he could not remember everything that happened. The complainant was also contradicted in the testimony of other witnesses, Porter said.
In outlining the facts of the case, the judge said there was no reason to reject the evidence of the accused.
Porter said he believed the complainant had first struck Legge on the helmet, hard enough to either knock it forward on his head or knock it off entirely.
Legge responded by striking the complainant once in the face, an act Porter deemed self defence.
“In the findings of fact, it is clear that the complainant struck the accused,” Porter wrote.
“He struck him from behind, and struck him hard enough to make him pitch forward. This was either during or immediately after threats to ‘bash in his head’ had been heard by the accused.
“Fearing for his own safety, he replied with force. However, he did not use excessive force, and he did not resort to using a weapon, whether a hockey stick or his skates. Using his fist to reply to the blow to the back of the head must be considered to have been a reasonable and proportionate use of force.”