The RCMP is investigating at least five incidents of hazing involving a Jr. A hockey team in Manitoba, but the father of one of the players involved feels both the Neepawa Natives and the Manitoba Jr. League did not go far enough in disciplining the team and those involved.
“To me, it was like a joke almost,” said the father of a 15-year-old victim. “Where is the justice here? My kid’s not playing hockey right now. Where is the justice? The victim is being victimized.”
The MJHL announced Wednesday that after a thorough investigation into the incidents, the team would be fined $5,000. Head coach Bryant Perrier will receive a two-game suspension and assistant coach Brad Biggers five. Sixteen players received suspensions ranging from one to five games. Team president Dave McIntosh, who pointed out that Natives executives reported the incidents to the league as soon as they learned about them, said the coaches would be retained and would face no further sanctions from the team.
The league did stipulate, however, the team would be able to suspend three players per game and allow the others to play, but that all suspensions would have to be served by the end of the season. It also ruled that Perrier and Biggers would be allowed to alternate their suspensions.
The RCMP in Neepawa is conducting a criminal investigation, but would not say what charges, if any, would be laid.
“We are investigating it and there is an file open,” said Constable Evan Willcock. “Beyond that, it’s not something we’re prepared to comment on at this time.”
The father said the players in question were forced to walk around the dressing room with a milk crate full of water bottles from practice tied to their scrotums. The father said some of the veterans threw wet towels in the milk crate to increase the weight of it. The father said there were seven players who were hazed, but MJHL president Kim Davis said the league’s investigation concluded five players were subject to the hazing. Davis wouldn't speak specifically about what happened in the dressing room.
"I'm not going to divulge that," Davis said. "We did a thorough investigation and our panel was very clear in its findings. There is no place for it."
The head coach, Perrier, was not present at the time and did issue an apology. The father said his son was told the only way he could win back the respect of his teammates was to apologize to them about the way he handled it, which he reportedly did. The player did not report the incident to the team or league, but told a friend, who told her father, who told the player’s father. The player’s father reported it to the league.
“At that point (the player) definitely thought his career was in jeopardy,” the father said.
Perrier referred all inquiries to McIntosh.
The father of the player says he will approach the league to expedite a trade for his son to another team. The league normally has a ban on the trading of 15-year-old players, but Davis said an exception will be made in this case and that the league is already working with the Natives to have the player placed on another team.
“He cannot go back into that room because it’s too dangerous for him,” the father said. “After we reported it, at the end of practice, players were shooting pucks at him. (Wednesday night) he’s missing his eighth game and those players will only miss five.”
Condemnation came swiftly from Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, who said someone with the organization, “has to be big-time accountable. The type of situation that happened in Neepawa cannot be allowed anywhere in the game. I hope all the jurisdictions within the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and Hockey Manitoba can continue to put strong sanctions against any of these actions.”
Nicholson said Hockey Canada would not step in and impose further sanctions unless Hockey Manitoba requested it. Hockey Manitoba president Brian Franklin is satisfied with the discipline meted out by the MJHL and will not pursue the matter further.
Hockey Canada does have a Bullying and Harassment Abuse Policy, but it does not stipulate disciplinary action. It does read, however, that, “Hockey Canada expects every parent, volunteer and staff member to take all reasonable steps to safeguard the welfare of its participants and protect them from any form of maltreatment.
“Child abuse is any form of physical, emotional and/or sexual mistreatment or lack of care which causes physical injury or emotional damage to a child. A common characteristic of all forms of abuse against children and youth is an abuse of power or authority and/or breach of trust. Across Canada a person is considered a child up to the age of 16 to 19 years depending on provincial/territorial legislation.”
Davis said it’s unfortunate that a young player who was victimized will have to change teams in mid-season and may even be forced to move away from home to continue his hockey career, while those involved will serve their suspensions and return to the team.
“The world’s not perfect,” Davis said. “I think we made a solid decision in terms of the sanctions. Honestly we don’t have any template in which to measure this sort of activity. I’m not justifying it. You can certainly make the case that it’s not fair, but another example is Sidney Crosby has been out eight months and the guy who hit him got two games. It’s not fair, it’s not right. I don’t think it makes sense to suspend a whole team and have them go under, to use an extreme example.”
Davis said the suspensions were spread over a large number of players because only one person was willing to step forward and say there were ringleaders.
“We talked to 10 or 11 players and the coaches,” he said. “It was not a criminal investigation, but I thought we did a very good job getting to the root of what took place. We asked players to be truthful, but it’s not a court of law and they’re not under oath. By and large I think we got the truth, but maybe not the full truth from some.”