Terry Trafford update: Many questions remain in wake of junior player’s death

Ken Campbell
Terry Trafford

In what can best be described as cruel, cruel irony, the tickets for Wednesday night’s postponed game between the Saginaw Spirit and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds prominently featured a picture of Spirit center Terry Trafford, who was found dead in his truck in a Walmart parking lot in Saginaw Tuesday.

Now, it’s far too premature to make bold statements about what part, if any, depression, drugs and the pressures of playing major junior hockey had to do with Trafford’s death. In fact, it has yet to be officially confirmed Trafford took his own life.

This much we know: Trafford’s father and girlfriend have said Trafford was sent home by the Spirit March 3 because he was caught smoking marijuana on a road trip. Trafford’s girlfriend has also told several media outlets that Trafford had lived with depression and was devastated about being sent home by the team. Trafford’s girlfriend has also been quoted as saying he hinted in telephone conversations and text messages that he wanted to kill himself.

Now is where things get a lot more murky and quite frankly, now is not the time for your trusty correspondent or anyone to be probing the minds of those closest to Terry Trafford. Certainly more will be disclosed later.

But one source close to the situation said unequivocally Trafford had never been sanctioned or suspended by the league for violating its anti-doping policy. A source also said Trafford was drug tested in December by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), which conducts tests for the Canadian Hockey League, and there was no presence of any illegal substance, including marijuana.

Substance abuse is covered under the CHL’s anti-doping policy that was adopted in 2008. The policy provides for escalating suspensions of eight and 25 games and two years for violating it, but it also states that, “in the case of a first anti-doping rule violation involving marijuana, the player will receive a letter of warning.” The policy also states that players sanctioned under the policy, “must participate in a rehabilitation program as directed by such player’s team, in conjunction with the CHL and CCES, and such rehabilitation program may include, but is not limited to:

• Counselling from medical personnel, substance abuse experts or law enforcement personnel

• Participation in a recognized substance abuse program

• Remedial anti-doping information and education

• Community service, including speaking to other players or members of the public about dangers of doping in sport

Ontario League commissioner David Branch, who takes very seriously the trust parents place in his league when they allow their children to play, said there are mechanisms in place to help players who are encountering any kind of emotional or mental issues or are having a problem with substance abuse.

“Our teams understand their responsibility and obligation in that area,” Branch said. “Every need can be met and the proper support provided. We have a network of professionals in a number of fields and we have constant access to them.”

When asked whether there would have been help for Trafford or any other player from the team or the league if it were sought, Branch said, “Absolutely. I can tell you that absolutely.” As for reports Trafford was sent home by the Spirit for smoking marijuana, Branch said, “That is not information I am privy to, nor am I aware of it.”

Branch said the league is still trying to figure out what it will do with the Spirit’s final three games of the season, a home-and-home series Wednesday and Friday against the the Soo Greyhounds and a home game Saturday against the London Knights. Grief counsellors were provided for the Spirit players Wednesday and Branch said he wanted to “take the temperature” of the Spirit players before moving forward. He said the league will also have to consider what funeral arrangements will be made so Trafford’s teammates will be able to attend the service in Toronto. A message left for Spirit management wasn’t immediately returned.

UPDATE: The OHL has extended the season to accommodate Saginaw’s situation. The Spirit’s remaining games will be played Friday, March 14, Saturday, March 15 and Monday, March 17. Full details here.