WHL investigating abuse claims by former player
Warning: This story contains details that may be disturbing to some readers.
A former Western Hockey League player has filed a complaint with the league alleging he was a victim of sexual and physical abuse during his time in the major junior hockey league.
The former player emailed the WHL on Saturday and subsequently sent a copy of his complaint to TSN. He asked that identifying information, including his name, the teams for whom he played, and the years he played in the WHL not be disclosed at this time. TSN is honouring his request.
WHL spokesman Taylor Rocca confirmed in an email on Tuesday that the league had received the complaint and would open an investigation.
“The WHL takes matters such as this very seriously and we have indicated to [the complainant] we will be in contact with him immediately to begin our investigation,” Rocca wrote in an email to TSN. “The WHL is committed to providing a safe and positive environment for all players. The WHL has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment or abuse and have partnered with Canadian Red Cross and Respect in Sport for over 20 years in delivering prevention programming for our players.”
The former player alleges in his complaint to the league that he was the victim of abuse while playing for two WHL clubs.
“The abuse transformed me from a driven, happy, engaged young man and a solid NHL hockey prospect into a black mass of anger, untrust of people, self-isolation and alcohol abuse,” the complainant wrote in an email to WHL commissioner Ron Robison. “The recent CHL allegations of abuse triggered anger in me and brought forward flashbacks and anguish.”
On June 18, former Canadian Hockey League players Dan Carcillo and Garrett Taylor filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the league, its three major junior leagues and its 60 teams, alleging they have been complicit for decades in rampant hazing, bullying and abuse of underage players by coaches, team staff and senior players.
The CHL has not filed a statement of defence and the allegations have not been proven.
The complainant in the WHL investigation alleged that in one incident, two teammates attacked him during a road trip.
“The abuse occurred while I was unfolding the rookie cot,” the complainant wrote. “I was attacked and pinned down face first by the two assailants, my hands at my side, with one assailant kneeling on each of my shoulders with his crotch against the back of my head and the second assailant sitting on my upper back. I was pinned helpless and unable to move; my face was pushed into the mattress. The only way to breathe was to move my head from side to side to get a gasp of air. The first assailant sitting on my shoulders removed his penis from his pants and proceeded to slap his penis off the side of my face when I attempted to get air while both assailants laughed saying, ‘not so tough now hey rookie.’”
On another occasion, the same two teammates allegedly forced several rookies to strip naked in a dressing room. A mark was made on the floor with hockey tape and the rookies were instructed to play a game of tug-of-war, with a string tied to their penises.
The complainant said that days later, four teammates attacked him as he left the dressing room shower after practice.
“The assailants immediately put a sock over my head from behind, taped it around my neck and punched me repeatedly in the ribs and thighs until I fell to the ground,” he wrote. “Once beaten to the ground, my arms were held out to the side by two assailants standing on them and I was taped to a hockey stick behind my head crucifixion-style. I was then dragged across the room by the hockey stick into the shower where the water was turned on scalding hot, a hockey lace was put on my penis and a coat rack was dragged into the shower. The lace was thrown over the rack and the other end was attached to my ankle. I was left in the shower for over an hour until the tape was soft enough to break free, all the while as my leg lowered it pulled my penis to the point of bleeding and tearing of the skin.”
The complainant wrote that another time while he was rehabbing a lower-body injury, he was on the ice wearing a sweatshirt and pants, gloves and a helmet when two of his teammates who had previously assaulted him started shooting pucks at him.
“When I stopped to confront them I was sucker-punched by a third assailant at their direction from the side and helplessly fell to the ice as my knee had no strength to support my weight, let alone fight,” he wrote. “My tooth was knocked out and my eye swollen shut.”
The two teammates who had orchestrated the assaults against him were subsequently traded to another team, the complainant wrote.
The complainant confirmed the identities of the alleged assailants to TSN. Several have prominent roles in the hockey industry.
The complainant said his teammates and team management were aware of the assaults and other offensive behaviour. One teammate not involved in assaults apologized to the complainant after the fact, saying he hoped the complainant would not quit the team.
“Abuse and assault is abuse and assault,” the complainant wrote to Robison. “It cannot be allowed to continue and I’m counting on you to do the right thing as leaders, parents and human beings.”