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Akwesasne Warriors not returning to Federal Hockey League

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AKWESASNE - The Akwesasne Warriors won’t be returning to the Federal Hockey League, league commissioner Don Kirnan confirmed.

The Warriors, who were at the center of controversy for their overly aggressive style of play, including engaging in several bench-clearing brawls against their rival the Thousand Islands Privateers, chose not to return to the circuit, Kirnan said, citing financial difficulties for the Ontario-based team.

“With this team, we didn’t expect them back,” Kirnan said. “They had a rough year and ended up in fifth place in the league and wound up losing some money, so much that I think they didn’t want to come back.”

Kirnan insisted the Warriors weren’t voted out of the league by its owners, but didn’t meet the financial criteria to be viable as a franchise for the upcoming season.

“At first there was no interest by them in coming back,” Kirnan explained. “But they didn’t let us know and they essentially missed the deadline for letting us know if they would be coming back. The last time I spoke to their owner was in the middle of March and there was really no communication after that.”

Kirnan said that before any team can return for another season in the FHL “we look at what they plan to do going forward to make sure that it’s a functioning business plan and that it’s going to work. This wasn’t the case with them (the Warriors).”

Kirnan called the Akwesasne team’s behavior at times last season “unacceptable,” which included several incidents, culminating with a brawl with the Privateers in Game 3 of first-round playoff series in Alexandria Bay, a melee which spilled over into the Privateers bench and had to be broken up by state police as fans attempted to climb over the glass.

“It was worse for Thousand Islands, because they saw them more often,” Kirnan said. “And there were some very, very good games — there were some great games between those two teams earlier in the season. The times when things weren’t good is when the Warriors were losing by five or six goals and then things got out of hand.

“It’s unfortunate when this happened, it was crazy how it happened and it was unacceptable.”

Earlier in the series, Warriors forward Pierre Dagenais, a former NHL player with New Jersey and Montreal, sent a player to the hospital with an elbow to the head.

“There were just a few games like that and there was no one else in the league that played like that,” Kirnan said. “And interestingly enough, when they were playing well, they didn’t play like that either. It was just when they were losing big when there were problems.”

Akwesasne’s antics, which included a slew of penalty minutes in 13 regular-season meetings with Thousand Islands, also turned ugly earlier in the season when the Warriors’ Ahmed Mahfouz speared a Cape Cod Fins’ player that sparked another brawl on Jan. 14.

“It is unacceptable,” Kirnan said. “People don’t want to see that any more, maybe 30 or 40 years ago people wanted to see that, but not now.”

After the league issued only minor suspensions, 14 Thousand Islands players boycotted their game on Feb. 10, citing the league had not disciplined the Warriors enough. Those Privateers who didn’t play in that game and coach Marc LeFebvre quit or were fired and the league still took no action.

“We can’t have those flare-ups and they were a good team when they played hockey,” Kirnan said of Akwesasne.

The league will make the announcement concerning the Akwesasne team’s defection official when it releases its 2012-13 season schedule.

The Brooklyn Aviators also will not return to the circuit, but the FHL will gain a team from Ohio as the Dayton Devils have joined the now six-team league.

The Privateers announced last week that they’ll be relocating from Alexandria Bay to Watertown and will compete at the Municipal Ice Arena at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

“We like how the league is growing,” Kirnan said. “We have an exciting brand of hockey which we feel our new fans will enjoy.”

The FHL is one of six professional leagues in North America — the NHL and American Hockey League — as well as the Central Hockey League, the Southern Professional Hockey League and the North American Hockey League (Canada).

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