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Posted: July 24, 2022

Is Canadian junior hockey worth saving?

“Perspectives,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

I first encountered the shame that’s junior hockey in Canada in Kimberley.

I was covering a game for the regular reporter and he’d told me to interview the coach after the game to get some quotes. So, I headed to the dressing room as an ugly burst of curses echoed through the door using every expletive and “F word” imaginable and a few I’d never heard before.

It stopped me in my tracks as the coach hurled venom at his players and dressed them down in the most demeaning way you could imagine. I don’t know what the players thought but it stunned me and I finally decided not to do the interview at all and further embarrass the team.

As I was driving home I got to thinking about my son who was approaching junior hockey age and a potential player. There’s no damn way I would want him exposed to this I thought and fortunately my son turned to soccer instead of Canada’s ‘national’ game.

Little did I know then what my son might have been exposed to if he had become a Canadian junior hockey player. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, recent revelations in the courts and the media reveal that junior hockey in Canada is one sick organization with a culture so toxic that calls are growing that the “sport” should be banned.

How sick? Here’s a headline from the Globe and Mail: “A junior hockey sexual assault scandal that should sicken us all.”

The Globe goes on to describe a repulsive incident alleged to have taken place in a London, Ontario hotel room in June 2018 after a Hockey Canada sponsored “gala” celebrating the gold medal victory of Team Canada in the now infamous tournament.

In April 2022 a suit was filed by an anonymous woman, who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the champion team who piled on after accepting an invitation by one of the players to go to a motel room.

Then faster than Connor McDavid can cross the blueline another allegation exploded in the Toronto Star  that after the junior hockey tournament in Halifax in 2003 a drunk and unconscious woman was raped and videoed on a pool table by members of the Canadian junior champion team with one of the team members referring to the horrific incident as a “lamb roast.”

Some of the players involved in both incidents are currently playing in the NHL while other players on the teams are releasing tweets that they were not involved in the sordidness and were unaware of it.

Hockey Canada, funded in part by the NHL and the federal government, has admitted it paid a secret settlement believed to be in the millions to the woman in the first incident and opened up an investigation into the second.

The feds and several big corporations have since withdrawn their funding from Hockey Canada and the organization has been left reeling. Believe me, I’m not making this stuff up. If you can stomach it, get on the ‘net and read it for yourself. But I would like to make a few points that I believe are being overlooked.

Why are we training young hockey players like this? Many of them are still legally children. Why is the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) allowed to exploit children like this? They don’t even pay them for God’s sake. No other major sports league gets away with this. You’d think the players’ parents would be up in arms about it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Or are the parents blinded by dollar signs in their eyes at the prospect of their children making it to the NHL and all those multi-million-dollar salaries?

I was on a bus in Anaheim once taking my kids to Disneyland and I got talking to some American high school basketball coaches on their way to a convention and they asked me how sporting talent was developed in Canada. I told them that kids as young as 16 are taken away from their homes and sent to live with billets up to a thousand kilometres from their family homes to play on CHL teams.

Several of the coaches gasped at the prospect of kids being removed from the security of their families, friends and schools to live with strangers just for a small chance at making it to the money and glory of the majors. That’s the way we do it in Canada, I said.

They couldn’t believe it. As a matter of fact, I have difficulty believing it myself. Could this be a big reason why junior hockey has developed into such a sick and toxic culture?

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who used to love Canadian hockey.

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