A group of parents at an Edmonton-area arena became so aggressive during a children’s hockey game that referees hid behind a locked door, fearing for their safety, until police arrived to escort them to their cars.

Such examples of unsportsmanlike conduct in the stands are on the rise, according to league officials. Hockey Edmonton says it’s given out more than five suspensions this month, barring unruly parents from the arena for a few games at a time, and in some cases, for the entire season.

“We lose a number of officials every year because of threats made by parents,” Hockey Edmonton President Mark Doram said in an email to parents. “This type of behaviour puts not only a black eye on the sport, but puts you in the spotlight as well.”

Doram says the stereotype of the screaming “typical hockey parent” is an unfortunate one, but rings true in many arenas. He points to the seemingly endless streams of online video featuring adults shouting down opposing teams, berating referees, and in at least one case, beating on the glass so hard it shatters onto the ice.

“We’ve got to step in and say there are repercussions if you take this too far,” Doram told CTV Edmonton on Sunday.

Parents under suspension by the league are not allowed inside arenas. They have to drop their players off and wait in the parking lot until the game is finished.

The parental punishments are temporary, but Doram says the impact of extreme outbursts of aggression can stick with children for their entire lives.

“Something like that, you never live down,” he said.

Stefan Brown, the chair of the North Zone Referees Committee, applauds Doram’s strong stance on abuse against officials. However, he feels it’s equally important for parents to think about the potential impact of their off-ice conduct on children.

“I think parents need to realize it’s just a game and officials are part of the game. It’s not productive, yelling and screaming at the officials.”

Doram hopes his message to parents about curbing bad behaviour was well received ahead of playoff season, when emotions typically run at their highest.

“Edmonton Police Services has more important calls in a night than coming to arenas to ensure the safety of officials or breaking up fights between parents and/or coaches,” he wrote. “This behaviour is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.”

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Angela Jung