Is Canadian junior hockey worth saving?

Perspectives by Gerry Warner

Opinion Commentary

I first encountered the shame of junior hockey in Canada in Kimberley.

I was covering a game for the regular reporter and he told me to interview the coach after the game to get quotes. So, I headed for the dressing room as a nasty flurry of swear words echoed through the door using every swear word and “F-word” imaginable and a few I had never heard before.

It stopped me in my tracks when the coach threw venom at his players and dressed them in the most degrading way you could imagine. I don’t know what the players thought about it but it stunned me and I finally decided not to do the interview at all and embarrass the team even more.

As I drove home, I thought of my son who was approaching junior hockey age and a potential player. There’s no way I want him exposed to that, I thought, and luckily my son has turned to soccer instead of Canada’s ‘national’ game.

I had no idea 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 court and media revelations reveal junior hockey in Canada is a sick organization with a culture so toxic that calls are mounting for the ‘sport’ to be banned. .

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

The Globe goes on to describe a disgusting incident that allegedly took place in a London, Ontario hotel room in June 2018, after a Hockey Canada-sponsored ‘gala’ celebrating Team Canada’s gold medal win. in the now infamous tournament.

In April 2022, a complaint was filed by an unnamed woman, who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the champion team who piled up after accepting an invitation from one of the players to go to a bedroom. motel.

Then, faster than Connor McDavid can cross the blue line, another allegation exploded in the Toronto Star that after the junior hockey tournament in Halifax in 2003, a drunken, unconscious woman was raped and filmed on a table of billiards by members of the Canadian Junior Champion team with one of the team members calling the horrific incident a “roast lamb”.

Some of the players involved in the two incidents are currently playing in the NHL while other players on the teams post tweets stating that they were not involved in the sordidity and were unaware of it.

Hockey Canada, funded in part by the NHL and the federal government, has admitted paying a secret settlement estimated in the millions to the woman involved in the first incident and has opened an investigation into the second.

The federal government and several large corporations have since withdrawn their funding from Hockey Canada and the organization is in shock. Believe me, I’m not making this up. If you can bear it, go online and read it for yourself. But I would like to highlight a few points that I think are 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 it. You’d think the players’ parents would be angry about this. 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 kids making it to the NHL and all those multi-million dollar salaries?

I was on a bus in Anaheim once to take my kids to Disneyland and talked to American high school basketball coaches on their way to a convention and they asked me how athletic talent developed in Canada. I told them that children as young as 16 are being taken from their homes and sent to live in quarters up to a thousand miles from their family home to play on CHL teams.

Several of the coaches gasped at the thought of children being taken from the safety of their families, friends and schools to live with strangers just for a small chance at majors money and glory. That’s how we do it in Canada, I said.

They couldn’t believe it. In fact, I find it hard to believe it myself. Could this be a big reason why junior hockey has become such a sick and toxic culture?

–Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who loved Canadian hockey.

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