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Rick Westhead

TSN Senior Correspondent

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Warning: This story contains extremely graphic content and language that may be upsetting to some readers.

As a rookie with the Cornwall Royals in 1980, Eric Calder received the same treatment as other first-year players.

“The veteran players drew funny things on us with magic marker in the dressing room, which washed off easily,” Calder wrote in a Nov. 1 affidavit. “This happened once and was a good laugh. We also had our eyebrows shaved around this time… In my experience, this ‘initiation’ was fun and never crossed any lines.”

The 58-year-old Calder wrote that he didn’t view his initiation as “abusive, degrading or humiliating.” Later, when he was a veteran with Cornwall’s Ontario Hockey League team, Calder led the same initiation activities with the team’s incoming players.

“I do not recall any team activities involving drinking or drugs,” Calder wrote.

Calder’s affidavit was among 19 filed in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto on Monday in connection with a proposed class-action hazing and abuse lawsuit filed against the Canadian Hockey League last summer.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2020 by former NHL player Dan Carcillo and one-time Western Hockey League player Garrett Taylor, alleges the CHL is replete with abuse and that its teams and their executives have perpetuated “a toxic environment which condones violent, discriminatory, racist, sexualized, and homophobic conduct, including physical and sexual assault, on the underage players that they are obligated to protect.”

In December, 16 additional former CHL players testified in affidavits about their alleged abuse. Several players said they had been sodomized with hockey sticks covered in "liquid heat." One former player said a group of CHL rookies had been forced to masturbate and ejaculate on the  same slice of bread, the last to do so forced to eat the bread. One player said he watched as rookies on his team were forced to have sex with prostitutes.

The plaintiff’s lawyers say there has been a systemic problem of hazing and abuse and that a judge should approve a motion to proceed with the case as a class action. If that happens, all current and former CHL players would automatically become plaintiffs in the case, except those who decide to opt out.

The CHL, which faced a Monday deadline to respond to the allegations, is using former players like Calder, the parents of one-time players, and team and league officials to portray major junior hockey as a place where most players have had largely positive experiences.

Some of those who swore affidavits said they’d never experienced or even heard of cases of hazing and abuse after spending decades working in the game.

Kruise Reddick, a player with the Tri-City Americans from 2006-11, wrote in an Oct. 28 affidavit that because the drinking age in Washington state is 21, alcohol was hard to access and there was not much drinking and no hazing on the team.

Chad Taylor, the owner of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, wrote that after 11 years in the CHL, the worst hazing case he had ever heard of involved a rookie player needing his stomach pumped after drinking too much alcohol.

Several league officials wrote that while there have been isolated cases of hazing, the CHL’s three leagues (the OHL, WHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) have taken steps to improve player safety.

The former players and current team and league officials testifying on behalf of the CHL spoke about experiences in the game dating back nearly 50 years.

Halifax Mooseheads majority owner Bobby Smith, who played with the Ottawa 67’s from 1975-78 before he was drafted first overall in the 1978 NHL entry draft, wrote in an Oct. 29 affidavit that when he played in Ottawa, “the veteran players might shave the rookies’ body hair at the beginning of the season.”

“No one was forced to participate in this, and I recall some players who appeared uncomfortable choosing to sit out without any repercussion to them,” Smith wrote. “The veteran players also occasionally played inoffensive pranks on the rookies. I remember everyone having a good laugh at these pranks, including the rookies, and they only ever happened once a season.”

Smith said Brian Kilrea was coach of the 67’s when he played with the team and that Kilrea didn’t allow veterans to shave the heads of first-year players to save those players from embarrassment after they moved to Ottawa and started at a new school.

Dave Lorentz, who played from 1987-90 with the Peterborough Petes and is now a vice-president on the team’s board, said he remembered a Petes coach stopping several veteran players from cutting a rookie’s hair and that the only initiation he experienced as an OHL rookie was a version of the “hot box.”

“Four or five rookies went into the bus bathroom on a road trip near the beginning of the season,” he wrote in a Nov. 1 affidavit. “Our clothes were tied up into a ball and we had to untie the ball, get dressed, and come out as quickly as possible. When I participated in the ‘hot box’, it took us less than five minutes to untie our clothes and come out. The longest I ever witnessed rookies in the ‘hot box’ was 20-30 minutes.”

“My experience with the ‘hot box’ was much less severe than that described by the plaintiffs,” Lorentz wrote. “The veteran players never poured anything through the vents while we were in the bathroom. I experienced the “hot box” as a team building “race against the clock” activity that was all in good fun. I do not recall rookies ever being physically forced to participate, if they chose not to.”

Calgary Hitmen general manager Jeff Chynoweth wrote in an Oct. 29 affidavit that he has never heard nor witnessed any hazing or initiation incidents like those described by Carcillo and other plaintiffs after 35 years working in the WHL.

“In the 1980s, some teams that I am aware of had an initiation ritual in which the veterans shaved the rookies’ private parts,” Chynoweth wrote in an Oct. 29 affidavit. “I also believe that this type of initiation took place in the National Hockey League in the same time period.”

Chynoweth wrote that he’d witnessed the “hot box” on a team bus once or twice in the 1980s or 1990s.

“The players were not naked,” he said. “And I have never heard of tobacco spit or urine being poured through the vents.”

Eric Chouinard, director of player safety for QMJHL since 2019, played three seasons with the Quebec Remparts from 1997-2000. Chouinard said while the Remparts had rookie “initiation” parties, they were meant to foster team bonding.

“We would play consensual drinking games where the last rookie to finish his beer would have to drink another one,” Chouinard wrote. “I am not saying that hazing did not exist in the QMJHL… The worst incident I heard about involved a rookie drinking a live fish during a drinking game that he was playing with his teammates. I cannot imagine he was forced to do that.”

CHL president Dan MacKenzie wrote in an Oct. 29 affidavit that when issues around hazing or abuse have come up, the teams and leagues have “dealt with them promptly” and introduced or updated policies to prevent future incidents.

MacKenzie wrote that teams have, at times, dismissed players from teams and the leagues because of hazing and abuse but did not disclose any details about how often that has happened.

Yves Lacasse, a former police officer who was the WHL’s security officer from 2014-19, wrote in an Oct. 29 affidavit that he conducted internal investigations of reports made by players and league officials in his role. He wrote he didn’t remember any complaints involving hazing.

Several of the former players and league officials addressed in their affidavits the claims made last year by Carcillo and Taylor.

Taylor played for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes starting in the summer of 2008 when he was 17. He has alleged that he and several other rookies on the Hurricanes suffered abuse throughout the 2008-09 season that was perpetrated by older Lethbridge Hurricanes players and team staff.

The head coach demanded Taylor fight other players in practice and provided a team credit card to one of the older players to buy alcohol for the team rookie party, Taylor alleged. He also said rookies were required to dress up in women’s clothing and forced to consume large amounts of alcohol, to the point of blacking out and vomiting.

Taylor’s mother, Kim, has previously alleged that Garrett was released from the Hurricanes early in the 2009-10 season by being pulled off the bus prior to a road trip. He was told to take his equipment off the bus and report to the Hurricanes’ Jr. A team in Canmore, Alta., without being given any gas or food money, she said.

Reddick, the former Tri-City American who played in the CHL at the same time as Taylor, wrote that he and his teammates did not experience the kind of humiliation Taylor has described.

“When a trade occurred on the Americans, [team management] would always tell the player privately… before making the announcement to the team in a kind way that permitted everyone to say goodbye and wish the player well,” Reddick wrote.

Allegations made by Carcillo in last summer's statement of claim were also challenged this week by OHL president David Branch.

Carcillo played for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting starting in the summer of 2002 when he was 17. He and approximately 12 other Sting rookies suffered “almost constant abuse for the entire 2002-03 season,” he has alleged.

“During showers, rookies were required to sit in the middle of the shower room naked while the older players urinated, spat saliva and tobacco chew on them,” Carcillo’s claim says. “At least once, the head coach walked into the shower room while this was occurring, laughed and walked out.”

Carcillo alleges rookies were repetitively hit on their bare buttocks with a sawed-off goalie stick, developing large welts and open sores. The injuries were so bad that players couldn’t sit down, even while attending local high school classes, he alleged.

Carcillo and another player from the Sting said they reported the alleged abuse while playing for Canada's national team at the 2003 IIHF U18 World Championship, Carcillo said the OHL conducted an informal investigation into the alleged abuse. No findings were released, the abusers were not punished, and no steps were taken to address the abuse, Carcillo alleged.

Branch, who was the CHL’s president from 1996 to 2019, wrote in a Nov. 1 affidavit that he doesn’t remember speaking with Carcillo about abuse allegations. Branch wrote that he met with Carcillo in 2005 to discuss his on-ice behaviour after he was suspended several times in 2004 while playing with Sarnia. 

“Hazing never came up at this meeting or any other meetings,” Branch wrote.

Branch wrote he next met Carcillo in June 2016 at an OHL alumni golf tournament. Carcillo apologized for his previous behaviour and asked to meet with Branch again to discuss how marijuana might help players manage concussions symptoms, Branch wrote.

Branch wrote they next met in 2019 to talk about Carcillo’s ideas for improving playing conditions for OHL players. Branch wrote that he explained updates made to the league’s hazing and social media policies, as well as other policy changes, and that Carcillo “expressed happiness and appreciation…”

“At the end of this meeting, Carcillo requested that we take a ‘selfie’,” Branch wrote. “He did not refer to any of the allegations he now makes about the hazing he experienced. He did not get in touch with me with suggestions for further changes to our policies and programs.”

Branch wrote that he only became aware of Carcillo’s hazing allegations when Carcillo in June 2020 began posting about them on Twitter.