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Mike Milbury: 'I don't smack kids around'

Posted by Kevin Paul Dupont, Globe Staff  December 17, 2011 06:30 PM

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Mike Milbury, who could be charged with assault and battery on a child for his role in breaking up a Dec. 9 altercation between his 12-year-old son and another youth hockey player at a Brookline outdoor rink, said today that the player he pulled away from his son verbally bullied and harangued Jake Milbury repeatedly on the ice that night.

Milbury, a former Bruins defenseman and these days a well-known hockey commentator on US and Canadian television, also said that he never struck or assaulted the player, but did grab him by his uniform to cut short the on-ice scrum that he contends was a product of the persistent bullying his son faced.

‘‘I want to be clear about a couple of things,’’ said Milbury. ‘‘No one was punched, kicked, or assaulted in any way. I know the ‘Mad Mike’ image that I have and all that. I love the game, I’m passionate about it, but I don’t smack kids around. I grabbed the other kid by the sweater to stop a fight and, yeah, I swore at him. That’s it. That’s what I did.

‘‘And ..... this was also after watching my kid get verbally bullied by the other player for over two hours. It was the third time that night that Jake and the kid got into it, and that was the last straw for Jake. I mean, what kid can take that?’’

In an exclusive interview with the Globe that lasted some two hours at a hotel near Milbury’s Needham home, the ex-Bruins defenseman, coach, and assistant general manager said he felt he had little recourse but to pull the boys apart as they skirmished in the moments leading up to an end-of-the-night shootout at the ‘‘Winter Classic’’ event that he and his wife sponsored at Larz Anderson Park.

Before the shootout, it was that fight that Milbury contends was triggered by the verbal abuse directed at his son that led him to grab the player on the opposing team by the sweater and swear at him — actions that soon will be reviewed by a Brookline District Court clerk magistrate to determine if the 59-year-old Milbury must face legal charges.

‘‘I am not going to cry over my reaction [on the ice],’’ said Milbury, both glib and forthright in his first comments about the incident, which became public on Friday. ‘‘At the same time, I understand the culture and implication and conclusion some would draw from this.’’

By Milbury’s account, he was acting as both a parent defending his bullied child and as an assistant coach concerned about the safety of both players when he helped defuse the dust-up between his son, and the player wearing No. 10 for the Everett-based Boston Jr. Blackhawks. The Blackhawks’ website identifies No. 10 only as ‘‘Zach.’’

A Globe story yesterday did not identify by name the mother of the alleged victim, but quoted her as telling WBZ-TV that Milbury ‘‘committed a crime’’ and that he ‘‘needs to be reprimanded.’’ She further noted that Milbury picked her son up by his shirt and was screaming and swearing at him. She added, ‘‘You can’t put your hands on a child.’’

Milbury doesn’t deny that he grabbed the player, but he is adamant that he caused the boy no physical harm. He contends that he restrained the boy by the sweater and swore at him while Jack Hauswirth, the head coach on Milbury’s team, similarly restrained Milbury’s child.

Asked what he said to the player wearing No. 10, Milbury said, ‘‘I yelled at him, ‘What did you say?! What the [expletive] did you just say to [Jake]?!’.’’

At no point, said Milbury, did he aggressively shake, strike, punch, or otherwise physically harm the player in the No. 10 sweater.

‘‘He wasn’t so much as bruised,’’ said Milbury. ‘‘I don’t think I even bruised his ego.’’

After an incident that he estimated to last 30 seconds, said Milbury, he released the other boy and the episode was finished. He then ordered his son to leave the ice, forbidding Jake to participate in the shootout, while the Blackhawks player remained on the sheet and participated through three lengthy rounds of shootouts that lasted some 30-45 minutes. The elder Milbury remained on the ice as goal judge.

According to Milbury, the final insult hurled at his son by the boy in sweater No. 10 related to the former Bruin’s role in a 1979 fight in the stands at Madison Square Garden. In that infamous altercation, Milbury at one point pulled a shoe off of one of the fans and struck him with it, part of a bizarre ‘‘Slapshot’’-like tableau that lives on to this day on YouTube.

‘‘The last thing [the player in sweater No. 10] said to Jake was, ‘What are you going to do now, tough guy, hit me with a shoe?!’’ said Milbury. ‘‘Thank you, YouTube.’’

Mike and Ginger Milbury’s two sons, Jake and 11-year-old J.P., have grown accustomed, though not inured, to such comments. Mike said yesterday that he continually instructs them to ignore the comments and simply ‘‘play through it.’’ When Jake received a two-minute roughing minor in the first period of the outdoor game, in what his father said was the boy’s initial response to the taunting, he told Jake, ‘‘Just get out there and score a goal, that’s always the best response.’’

‘‘Both of our kids have to deal with this stuff regularly,’’ added Milbury. ‘‘Jake knew what my reaction would be if he engaged in anything. He knew I was upset with him. And I told him three or four times during the event that it couldn’t happen. I told him that again after the night was done, too, and I got a teary-eyed apology from him ..... but as you know, it’s too late then. When he got in that last fight, he was done for the night.’’

During the game, said Milbury, Jake was subjected to repeated taunting, one of the Blackhawks players referring to him as ‘‘Dinglebury.’’

‘‘Then finally the shoe comment,’’ said Milbury. ‘‘Later, Jake said, ‘But dad, they’re making fun of our family.’.’’

At one point during the game, said Milbury, he gained the attention of a coach on the opposition’s bench and asked that he put an end to the abusive chatter directed at Jake. The other coach, said Milbury, claimed the offensive language was being used by players on both teams and because of that he chose not to do anything about it.

‘‘It could have been stopped and stopped early,’’ said Milbury. ‘‘It all could have been prevented.’’

The game was sponsored by Milbury and his wife, who paid approximately $500 to rent the ice and then collected $20 per family to help defray the cost of pizza and beverages (no alcohol included) served after the game ended.

Once the pizza party wrapped up in a room adjacent to the rink, all the players, including Jake Milbury and the player who allegedly taunted him, returned to the ice for what was intended to be a fun, spirited shootout to end the evening. Unlike the game, there was no referee on the ice for the shootout.

When the fight erupted, said Milbury, he was in street shoes and making his way to one of the goals, where he was about to preside as a goal judge during the shootout. As the boys began flailing, he raced over to restrain the Blackhawks player and Hauswirth held off the younger Milbury.

Needham resident Peter Weiner, whose son Cole is a goalie on Jake’s team, the Boch Blazers, in a phone interview yesterday afternoon confirmed Milbury’s account. Weiner said he was there throughout the night, witnessed Jake ‘‘being needled pretty much all game,’’ and lauded Milbury for helping to restrain the skirmishing players.

‘‘All he did was stop the kids,’’ said Weiner. ‘‘And on top of it, he booted his own kid off the ice.’’

Weiner, when asked if Milbury used excessive force to restrain the Blackhawks player or otherwise punched, struck, kicked, or physically abused the 12-year-old, added, ‘‘He did not ..... he absolutely did not, and that’s 100 percent accurate. All he did was separate two kids, and I saw his own boy leave the ice in tears.’’

According to Weiner, one of the Blackhawks coaches then confronted the elder Milbury on the ice and the two had a heated exchange that did not include physical contact. He estimated that the yelling lasted five minutes before it was broken up by Hauswirth.

The Brookline Police Department, initially notified of the incident Dec. 10, on Friday sought charges against Milbury for assault and battery on a child, threatening to commit a crime, and disorderly conduct.

According to Milbury, who was scheduled to appear on CBC last night, he and his employers, including NBC, mutually agreed on Friday for him to step away from his commentating duties while he deals with the issues related to the Dec. 9 incident.

‘‘I know, I understand, you are not supposed to have physical contact with anyone,’’ said Milbury, again noting how some may perceive his actions. ‘‘But it’s a fight right in front of me, and I did what I felt I had to do to stop it. I don’t think I had a choice.

‘‘Ideally, sure, I’d calmly and politely step in and say, ‘Now, Johnny, could you please help explain to me what’s going on here?’ But that’s not reality.’’

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