Whaler Hockey Player In Shock Over One-Year Suspension

David Creed •

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Senior forward Braden Knapp's high school sports career is over after being handed a one year suspension by the MIAA. Photo by Chris Tran

The MIAA has suspended Nantucket senior forward Braden Knapp for one year following an incident on February 22nd in which Knapp was assessed a penalty for an alleged “violent assault of an official” after shooting a puck into a scrum at the end of the game. Knapp has not appeared in either of the Whaler’s two state tournament games as a result.

The suspension was upheld by a five-person committee selected by the MIAA, and the decision came in a 5-0 vote. Knapp is the Whaler’s second-leading scorer this year with 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points in 20 games. He had never been suspended or issued a major penalty in his high school sports career prior to the February 22nd game against the Sandwich Blue Knights at the Gallo Arena. This was a first-time offense.

Over the course of his three years playing varsity hockey, it was rare to witness an instance of Knapp even getting into a scrap on the ice. He’s been a finesse player for the Whalers who has made a name for himself thanks to his skill and soft hands.

After the Whaler’s round one matchup against St. John Paul II on March 1, it was clear Knapp was still in shock over the whole situation. He told the Current and a couple of spectators around him that he regretted the incident deeply, that it was in the heat of the moment, and something "he would never do again."

Knapp also denies attempting to shoot the puck at the referee. The intention was to take attention away from the scrum ensuing at center ice and end it.

For background, the chippy game between the Whalers and Blue Knights – two of the top teams in Division 4 – turned ugly in the game’s final seconds after a Sandwich player hit a Nantucket player behind the play – prompting one of the Whaler player's teammates to return the favor with a crosscheck to the Blue Knight’s player later in the shift in what he said was a defense of his linemate.

Below is the clip of the incident. As the scrum drags out, check out the eight-second mark – top right of the video – and you’ll see Knapp shoot a puck into the scrum. The refs issued a disqualification penalty for “violent assault of an official” although all indications given to the Current at this time have been that no official was hit.

According to the MIAA Handbook Section 49.3.8: “a student who physically assaults an official shall be expelled from the activity immediately and banned from further participation in all sports for one year from the date of the offense.”

However, one-year suspensions can be appealed to an Eligibility Appeals Board (EAB) hearing to decide the length of the penalty. Knapp had his hearing on Thursday, February 29th.

On February 24th, two days after the incident and five days before the eventual hearing, the Current first caught wind that a possible suspension could be looming and reached out to the MIAA asking if that was true, when the appeal hearing would take place, and whether it would be made public - but we never received a reply.

An appeal needs to be initiated by the high school principal of the student in question, which Nantucket High School principal Mandy Vasil did. The disqualification determination then goes to the EAB Appeal Board for review.

The EAB consists of dozens of members ranging from athletic directors, principals, and superintendents across the state. On the MIAA’s website, they list 41 names of administrators across Massachusetts who are on the board.

Whitman Hanson High School Athletic Director Bob Rodgers, who is one of the 41 EAB board members, was not part of this hearing but responded to a thread on Twitter (X) that originally broke the news of the suspension. He thoroughly detailed and outlined the process.

“The executive staff of the MIAA reaches out to the members and sees who is available for the hearings (often times it can be a 3-5 hour commitment depending on how many cases are on the docket),” Rodgers said. “Five members are selected and then the school which has filed the appeal gets to present their case with witnesses, video, etc. Following their presentation the board then discusses in private and votes. The intent is always to give students due process while upholding the integrity of the important rules that govern high school athletics in the state of Massachusetts.”

Rodgers reiterated that he was not involved with this case and therefore does not have an opinion on the ruling given he does not have all the facts at his disposal. He said he wanted to respond to provide clarity on who specifically made the decision.

“Many times in cases like this one, penalties are reduced or even eliminated based on the facts presented,” Rodgers said.

It is unclear at this time why Knapp’s suspension was not one of the many cases in which a penalty was either reduced or eliminated – especially given that it was a first offense.

The Current has learned the names of four members who were on the committee that sat in on Knapp’s hearing including Marc Talbot (Pembroke High School Principal), Stephen Murray (Chelmsford High School Principal), Paul Branagan (Middleboro High School Principal), Kelly Wolff (Swampscot High School Athletic Director).

The Current reached out to each member, but only heard back from Talbot who declined to comment.

“I am unable to comment on this or any other hearing, for those are strictly confidential,” Talbot said in an email. “Instead, I would refer you to the folks at the MIAA.”

However, the MIAA will not discuss the suspension either. The Current reached out to the MIAA with several questions attempting to learn more about the process, who was involved, what was considered, and what ultimately led the decision-makers to the conclusion that upholding a one-year suspension on Knapp was warranted.

“This is a confidential matter involving a student-athlete and the MIAA refers all questions to the Nantucket school administration,” the MIAA said.

The suspension was handed down by the MIAA and their five-person committee however, not the Nantucket school administration. The Current has also learned that at least three letters of recommendation were submitted on behalf of Knapp and that Knapp read a prepared statement to the committee.

For clarity on the one-year suspension, while Knapp is a senior, the MIAA policy is that a one-year suspension ends one year from the date of the incident, not at the end of the school year. So if Knapp had been a junior, for example, he would be ineligible to finish the hockey season, as well as spring and fall sports, and would not be eligible to play hockey next year until the end of the season on February 22, 2025.

Knapp had expressed interest in playing tennis this spring, however that option is no longer available under the upheld suspension.

A Sandwich player was issued a fighting major penalty at the end of the February 22nd game, as well as a disqualification penalty, however it is unclear whether that player was also suspended for any period of time.

The #2 seeded Whalers will attempt to move onto the MIAA Div. 4 state semifinal on Wednesday, March 6th at 3:15 p.m. when they play the #10 seeded Stoneham Spartans at the Gallo Arena.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available and/or if we receive comment from the MIAA or any of the committee members.

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