Hockey fans in Baltimore have fond memories of Gene Ubriaco, the soft-spoken Skipjacks coach who led the franchise to the Calder Cup finals before leaving town for the head coaching job with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1988-89. And Ubriaco, busy coaching the Atlanta Knights to a division title in the International Hockey League, has fond memories of Baltimore.
"It's home," he said, explaining why he took time to return a call just before his team's game last night.
Ubriaco, whose team is 38-15-3 this season, is anxious to set the record straight. He is not turning into the next Riddick Bowe.
According to a story out of Indianapolis yesterday, Ubriaco and Salt Lake City coach Bob Francis each will have to do 100 hours of community service and pay a "significant fine" because of a fight during a game in Atlanta on Sunday.
The fight was over the availability of Salt Lake's No. 1 goalie Andre Trefilou, who had been suspended the night before, along with Atlanta's goalie in an 11-player fight between these same two teams. When Salt Lake tried to bring Trefilou out of the stands Sunday to replace Trevor Kidd, who broke a leg, Ubriaco objected. Objected strenuously.
"It really was unfortunate," said Ubriaco, who is well on his way to fulfilling his community service requirement as coach of the U.S. National Hockey Team for the Deaf and as director of a hockey program for the hearing impaired. "I admit I was wrong. I did grab Bob first. But it all happened because we were all on the wrong page. It was simply a lack of communication between the league office and our two teams.
"We all knew Trefilou was suspended. What I didn't know was that we were supposed to have gotten a fax from the league telling us we could use them if something happened to our starters."
In the official release from IHL commissioner N. Thomas Berry Jr. there was no mention of miscommunications, only a reprimand.
"Both Gene and Bob understand that they are the leaders of their teams, and their role in the IHL's mission is as teachers," Berry said of the incident in which Ubriaco and Francis exchanged shouts and punches and were ejected from the game. "As teachers, they must set a good example for their players."
But last night, Mike Meyers, the league's director of operations, said there was a communication breakdown.
"It's one of those things that happen on a Saturday night," he said. "I'll confirm there was some miscommunication, more than that, I can't say."
The last time Ubriaco got in a fight? The 1969-70 season, when he was playing for the Chicago Blackhawks.
"And I never really got in it," Ubriaco said. "There was a fight on the ice and I tried to get in it, but I slipped on a glove trying to get over the boards and never made it."
Money to burn
The five hottest items at the Capitals auction in support of area youth hockey last weekend:
1. Wayne Gretzy's autographed All-Star jersey, $3,500.
2. Photo with Eric Lindros and his autographed jersey, $2,200.
3. Road trip with the Capitals next season, $1,400.
4. A complete set of NHL pucks autographed by every team captain, $1,300.
5. Appearance with Capitals defenseman Al Iafrate on his radio talk show, $1,100.
The auction raised approximately $36,000, including $500 for what may have been the most unusual item offered: the opportunity for six people to join Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson for a Grateful Dead concert next month.
Say it was your union
If you had been paying dues to the NHL Players Association, how would you feel if you found out the organization had reimbursed the executive director, Alan Eagleson, $62,342 for among other things:
* $36,917 for gifts to insurance agents and others who did business with the NHL Players Association.
* $24,000 for a London apartment, plus tickets to Wimbledon and the theater.
* $19,274 for golf and tennis club dues and expenses, plus $2,130 for YMCA memberships for Eagleson and another union official.
* $1,000 for books of tickets to One-A-Minute Carwash.