More allegations of abuse in junior hockey . . . Lawyer busy adding players to lawsuit . . . Former NHLer likely to join


A spokesperson with the WHL has told TSN that it would open an investigation after a former player alleged “he was a victim of sexual and physical abuse” during stints with two teams.

According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, the player sent an email of his complaints to the WHL and copied the email to TSN.

In the email, the player wrote:

“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 recent CHL allegations of abuse triggered anger in me and brought forward flashbacks and anguish.”

The player went into the brutish details of the complaints in the email, all of which is in Westhead’s story that is right here.

At one point, Westhead writes: “The complainant confirmed the identities of the alleged assailants to TSN. Several have prominent roles in the hockey industry.”


The WHL has had at least one opportunity in years gone by to deal with a player who has said he was humiliated and “physically assaulted” during his WHL career.

In the book Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos, which was published in 2012, Peter Soberlak described some of what happened to him during his first WHL season with his hometown Kamloops Blazers.

“It was really horrible,” Soberlak, who was 16 at the time, said. “In a lot of cases, I feared going on the bus, feared going on road trips . . . just because of the humiliation and constant verbal abuse. . . .

“What I went through in Kamloops destroyed my confidence. I can deal with that now, but it was just horrific for me. It sucked the life out of me. . . . I was physically assaulted.

“You think I have not suffered — have not had repercussions from what I went through there — serious, absolutely long-term, continuous major repercussions of what happened to me in that situation. I guarantee you I have.”

Seen by some observers as the best player in his age group in Canada at one time, Soberlak was out of the game at 23.

“That’s the only thing I am bitter about in my hockey career,” he said. “My first year in Kamloops . . . it was the worst year of my life.”

Soberlak, now 51, has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, with a minor in sociology, from the University of British Columbia and a Master’s Degree in sport and exercise psychology from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He is a lecturer and works with the athletic department and its teams at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

No one from the WHL has ever contacted him about his allegations in the book of which I was a co-author.


James Sayce, the lawyer working with Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor on their class-action lawsuit against the CHL, has told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News “a lot” of players have joined the lawsuit since it first was filed. . . . Campbell writes: “If the people who run junior hockey in Canada were taken aback by this lawsuit, shame on them. They should have seen this coming because it’s not as though the warning signs were not there. In fact, in filing a lawsuit against the CHL, both Carcillo and Taylor were simply putting on the legal record things they’ve been saying for years now. Carcillo went public with the humiliation he suffered during his rookie season with the Sarnia Sting in 2002-03 two years ago.” . . . Campbell’s latest column is right here.


Dan Fritsche, a former NHLer, says he likely will be joining the class-action lawsuit filed by Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor against the CHL and the three major junior leagues that operate under its umbrella. The lawsuit alleges “hazing, bullying, physical and verbal harassment, physical assault, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.” . . . Fritsche was a rookie on the 2002-03 Sarnia Sting of the OHL, as was Carcillo. . . . “There’s nothing I’ve read that isn’t true,” Fritsche told Aaron Portzline of The Athletic. “I was in that toxic atmosphere. I had to go through all of that rookie shit, all the disgusting things they would make us do. It was so awful, and people knew about it who absolutely could have stopped it. They’d put us in the (charter bus) bathroom, butt-ass naked, six to eight of us (rookies) for 45 minutes as we’re coming home from a road trip. They’d throw a coin in there to make us fight over it, naked, and whoever came up with it got to get out first. Stuff like that, just over and over.” . . . If you are an Athletic subscriber, Portzline’s complete story is right here.




An undisclosed number of Minnesota Twins players have tested positive, although none were at the team’s home park, Target Field, or its spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. . . . Derek Falvey, the president of baseball operations, told Fox 9 Sports: “We have players in many different locations. I don’t think this is necessarily a surprise that we may have some positive cases.” . . .

ESPN reported that the NFL has cancelled its Hall of Fame game that was to have featured the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 6. . . . It also is believed that the NFL will delay its induction ceremonies that were to have been held on Aug. 8. . . .

The NBA’s Sacramento Kings have at least three players on their roster who have tested positive — F Jabari Parker, C Alex Len and G Buddy Hield. . . . Sara Hodge of CBS Sacramento has reported that a fourth unidentified player also has tested positive. . . .

Orenburg, a team in Russia’s top soccer league, reported Thursday that it has six players and two staff members who have tested positive. . . . The Russian Premier League returned to play last week. . . . Apparently, Orenburg’s entire team tested negative as recently as Sunday. . . .

The seven-team Canadian Elite Basketball League, which was to have started its season early in May, is planning on opening a month-long tournament without fans in St. Catharines, Ont., on July 15. A single-elimination playoff will end with a championship game on Aug. 9. . . . Devin Heroux of CBC reports: “All seven teams will stay in a bubble-like setting in St. Catharines, playing games at the Meridian Centre and practising at a nearby facility. League officials said players, coaches and personnel will be separated from the general public and strict screening and COVID-19 protocols will be adhered to under the supervision of medical officials.”



Eric Ditto is returning for his seventh season on the coaching staff of the junior B Delisle Chiefs of the Prairie Junior Hockey League. Ditto is preparing for his sixth full season as head coach and his second as general manager. . . . Anthony Radke will be back for a second season as an assistant coach. . . . Ryan Pilon is the other assistant coach. He joined the Chiefs during last season after serving as an assistant coach with the Beardy’s Blackhawks U18 AAA team.


The RINK Hockey Corp., owner of the Rink Hockey Academy, has bought the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy (POE) and Edge of Excellence (EOE) in a deal that is to close on July 1. The sale is subject to the approval of BC Hockey and the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. . . . There is more right here.


Scattershooting on a Tuesday evening after spending time on Monday with Sabrina . . .

Scattershooting

If you’re wondering, Dave Ayres and his wife, Sarah, are expected back in the Toronto area today (Wednesday) after being feted in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday. You will recall that Ayres, who had a kidney transplant in 2004, is the EBUG (emergency backup goaltender) who helped the Carolina Hurricanes beat the host Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-3, on Saturday night. . . . They are expected to be back in Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night where he again will be the EBUG, this time with the Vancouver Canucks in to play the Maple Leafs. . . . You don’t suppose that he might . . . nah, never happen.


BoardingPass


Congrats to Trevor Weisgerber, the head coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League. Weisgerber, 40, who underwent a kidney transplant in St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon on Jan. 26, has been named winner of the Joe Bloski Award as the league’s coach of the year. . . . The Warriors went 30-13-1 and tied for fourth place in the 12-team league, one point out of third and seven short of first. They will open a first-round playoff series against the visiting Notre Dame Hounds on Thursday. . . . Weisgerber told me on Tuesday that “I am feeling pretty good . . . the fun begins on Thursday!” . . . If you aren’t familiar with Weisgerber’s story, you will find it all right here.



Grant Rezansoff, who played two seasons (1979-81) with the WHL’s Victoria Cougars, died on Saturday at his home in Red Wing, Minn. A native of Surrey, B.C., he was 58. . . . In his second season with the Cougars, he scored 40 goals and added 57 assists. . . . After moving on from the WHL, Rezansoff played in the International and Central leagues before spending two seasons in Europe. . . . There is a complete obituary right here.


Disneyland


The New York Mets are paying Bobby Bonilla, who last played in 2001, a total of $1,193, 248.20 a year until 2035. Now we are free to wonder if the NHL is headed into the same territory. . . . At the NHL trade deadline, it was pointed out that the Buffalo Sabres are paying D Christian Ehrhoff the nice sum of $857,143 per year until 2028. He last played with the Sabres in 2013-14 and was last in the NHL in 2015-16 with the Chicago Blackhawks. . . . Meanwhile, F Ilya Kovalchuk, who has gone from the Los Angeles Kings to the Montreal Canadiens to the Washington Capitals in the past few weeks, is taking up cap space on four different NHL teams, with the New Jersey Devils also in the Payin’ Ilya Club.


GiftCard


Until reading a book titled Major Misconduct: The Human Cost of Fighting in Hockey, by Jeremy Allingham, I wasn’t aware that former Seattle Thunderbirds/Kelowna Rockets enforcer James McEwan had filed a concussion-related lawsuit against the CHL, WHL and Hockey Canada.

It turns out that the lawsuit now is more encompassing that that, as Ken Campbell of The Hockey News points out here:

“Already facing a class-action lawsuit over not paying its players a minimum wage, the three major junior leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League could soon find themselves facing a concussion lawsuit that could include hundreds, if not thousands, of former frequent fighters in junior hockey.

“What started as a lawsuit launched against the CHL, the WHL and Hockey Canada by former WHL player James McEwan in January 2019 was recently re-filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia to include both the OHL and QMJHL. Six days after the lawsuit was re-filed, the QMJHL postponed a vote on whether or not to ban fighting, a vote that was scheduled for that day, but was moved to August.”

Campbell’s complete piece is right here.



JUST NOTES: Having heard about Sabrina Ionescu in recent days, I got a chance to watch her on a TSN channel on Monday night as her Oregon Ducks beat the host Stanford Cardinal. Earlier in the day, Ionescu had spoken at the memorial for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gigi — Ionescu was close with both of them. She also was fighting a flu bug and apparently was sick to her stomach before the game. The 5-foot-11 point guard then went out and led the Ducks to victory, in the process becoming the first player, male or female, in NCAA Division 1 history to have career totals of at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. Yes, she is quite a player. Try to tune in if the Ducks are on TV again. . . . How goofy has the NHL’s trade deadline day become? Here’s Pete Blackburn of CBS Sports, singling out one incident from Monday: “The best moment of the day came when Johnny Gaudreau inexplicably left the ice at the Calgary Flames practice, leading everyone to freak out and speculate. It turns out he just had to pee. Trade deadline day is the best.”

Sheldon Kennedy, Swift Current and the healing process

These days, Sheldon Kennedy works at helping other people heal, and Sunday was no exception.

Kennedy survived the bus crash involving the Swift Current Broncos on Dec. 30, 1986. He also survived sexual abuse at the hands of Graham James, who was the general manager and head coach of those Broncos.

These days, Kennedy travels the country as an advocate for children and others who have been, or continue to be, victims of sexual abuse. He also spends a lot of time working on behalf of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary, the goal of which is to stop the cycle of abuse.

On Sunday, Kennedy was in Saskatoon to visit with, and offer support to, survivors of Friday’s crash in which 15 people aboard the Humboldt Broncos’ bus lost their lives and the 14 survivors all were injured. The Broncos were en route to Nipawin, where they were to have played the Hawks in Game 5 of a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League semifinal series.

Kennedy, Peter Soberlak and Bob Wilkie, all of whom survived the Swift Current bus crash, and Darren Kruger, whose brother Scott died in that accident, arrived in Saskatoon on Sunday, then later travelled to Humboldt for a prayer vigil.

This kind of support is certain to help Humboldt and the Broncos’ family with the healing process, a process that really won’t end.

For proof of that, let’s revisit the City of Swift Current and all that its citizens have gone through since that blustery day in late December of 1986.

Only James and his victims knew at that time what was going on behind closed doors. The survivors of the bus crash went on to play again and, in fact, won the Memorial Cup in the spring of 1989, still with James at the helm.

The Broncos’ success was seen as an avenue to healing in Swift Current, a city of about 16,000 people who absolutely loved their hockey team.

In time, the players moved on with their lives, some going into pro hockey, others on to careers.

Kennedy was one who went on to pro hockey. Then, in 1996, Kennedy, a troubled individual by that time, blew the whistle on James, who by now was with the Calgary Hitmen. James was charged on Nov. 22 with two counts of sexual assault involving more than 300 encounters with a pair of former players over a 10-year period.

The national media, which 10 years earlier had descended on Swift Current with tears in its eyes and empathy in its words, returned, only this time it was pointing fingers. It had questions. Who knew what? When did they know it? You didn’t know anything? Why didn’t you know?

The citizens of Swift Current, who had healed perhaps as well as you ever will from the loss of four sons, withdrew into their homes and pulled down the shades. Now they were being forced to relive the past over and over and over again. Whenever James resurfaced in the public eye — and it was often — Swift Current found itself back in the spotlight. “Here we go again” could have been the city’s motto.

Through all of this, Kennedy had what was at best an arm’s-length relationship with Swift Current. He returned in 2009 for a 20-year reunion of the Memorial Cup team, but admitted to feeling that there still were “a lot of skeletons” in the community.

That changed on May 27, 2016, when Kennedy, by now mature and well into his role as an advocate, was in Swift Current to be inducted into the Broncos’ Hall of Fame. It was almost 30 years since the accident and Kennedy wanted to let the city know that it was OK to let go, that it was OK to hold your head high and to move on.

“I think it’s another day to give us all permission to move forward in a positive direction and forgive ourselves but not forget,” Kennedy told the crowd at the banquet and induction ceremony. “I think that’s important, and understanding the important role of sport and understanding the important role of community and raising kids and making sure that we create that healthy atmosphere (in which) to do so. . . . we can move beyond tragic events and there’s hope. It has to be about hope and there’s hope to learn, to accept and to move on. I think that’s important and that’s what today is, and for that it means a lot to me.”

That was the day when Kennedy made Swift Current his city.

One thing that Kennedy and Wilkie have always remembered is that they were left to heal on their own in the aftermath of the bus accident.

In his book Why I Didn’t Say Anything, Kennedy wrote: “You would have thought that someone in charge would have arranged for the survivors to receive therapy to help them deal with the shock and grief following the accident, but none of us received any kind of professional help. Nobody seemed to want to talk about what happened.”

Kennedy, in the book Sudden-Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos, put it this way: “The idea that Graham James got us through the bus crash is insulting. We didn’t rally around him. The players rallied. He had nothing to do with it. And he kept the professional help from the team because he didn’t want anyone to know he was a sexual predator — keeping out professional help was his idea, not the players’. The idea of keeping the dressing room door closed came from him.”

Wilkie, meanwhile, told Eric Francis of Postmedia: “We weren’t allowed to talk about it for fear his dirty secret would come out. My mom wondered for years why we were never given any of the resources we needed to cope with it properly. Those who wanted help were told ‘no’ by Graham. Now we know why.”

That — wanting to help — was the motivation for the quick decision to fly into Saskatoon on Sunday. They know that unlike 1986 there will be professional help available to people impacted by what transpired on Highway No. 35 near Nipawin on Friday night.

At the same time, Kennedy, Soberlak and Wilkie are among the few who have survived this kind of tragedy and know that they have something to offer.

At the same time, the people of Humboldt, with its population of about 6,000, know that the hurt isn’t going to go away anytime soon. You never want to lose the memories, but there are times when you don’t want to hurt. But it always will be there, to one degree or another.

And just when you think that maybe it is gone, there will be an accident somewhere and people will remember what happened to Humboldt’s hockey team on April 6, 2018, and the spotlight will return.

If you don’t believe it, just ask the people of Swift Current, who no doubt have been reliving it all for the past two days.

Scattershooting in the aftermath of tragedy

Scattershooting

Logan Boulet, a defenceman from Lethbridge who turned 21 on March 2, was among the players who died on Friday in the tragedy involving the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos.

Boulet had signed his organ donor card upon turning 21, and his organs will benefit others. He was kept on life support into Saturday in order to allow that to happen.

Liam Nixon of Global Lethbridge tweeted a statement from Logan’s father, Toby, on Saturday evening. Part of that statement: “Despite other media reports today, Logan’s strong heart continues to beat this evening. The final harvesting of Logan’s organs will take place overnight, now that he has positive matches for all organs donated.”

Earlier, Nixon had reported that Logan “is giving new hope to at least six different people.”

Neil Langevin, a family friend of the Boulets, was Logan’s godfather. Langevin tweeted that a surgical team from the U of Alberta hospital would travel to Saskatoon “for organ transplant procedures. There have been matches made for all vital organs, including a patient set to receive his heart and lungs. . . . The family will stay with Logan until the surgery begins at around 2 a.m.”

Langevin added: “Following the organ surgery, his other organs will be donated to science as he requested. These actions alone give voice to the selfless and benevolent nature Logan possessed in life for others, truly taught and fostered by Toby and Bernie.”

As someone whose wife was did peritoneal dialysis for four years before being the beneficiary of a kidney transplant, I will admit there were tears when I read all of this news. There really aren’t words at a time like this, but a heartfelt ‘Thank you’ — along with the deepest condolences — to Logan’s family and friends.



Glen Doerksen was driving the Humboldt Broncos’ bus at the time of the accident. He didn’t survive the crash. He also drove for the Kinistino Tigers of the Wheatland Senior Hockey League. . . . Dave Deibert of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has more on Doerksen right here.


Sheldon Kennedy, Peter Soberlak and Bob Wilkie were players with the 1986-87 Swift Current Broncos and survived the bus crash on Dec. 30, 1986, that claimed the lives of four teammates. Kennedy, Soberlak and Wilkie are scheduled to arrive in Humboldt today (Sunday) and will provide help and support where they can.


On Saturday evening, I received an email from a relative of one of the injured players. “His Mother is there and having mixed emotions with her son surviving with other Mothers losing sons,” read part of the email. . . . Yes, survivor’s guilt is something with which people will have to deal, which is among the many reasons that counsellors are being made available.



One of the things we need to keep in mind at a time like this is that because of social media, spring/summer hockey and travelling teams, players throughout hockey are often more than acquainted with so many more players than players of yesteryear. Thus, a tragedy of this nature will have a far greater and more personal impact on more players than even the accident involving the Swift Current Broncos.



While general manager/head coach Darcy Haugan and assistant coach Mark Cross were among the fatalities, athletic therapist Dayna Brons survived and is recovering from undisclosed injuries in hospital. From Lake Lenore, Sask., she is a graduate (kinesiology and health studies) of the U of Regina. Brons is in her second season with the Broncos.


Darcy Haugan, 41, leaves behind his wife, Christine, and two sons, Carson and Jackson. Christine works for the Broncos as their office manager.


If you click right here, you will find a person-by-person look at many of those killed or injured in the crash involving the Humboldt Broncos’ bus.


Devin Cannon and his wife, Rene, provided a billet home for three of the Humboldt Broncos players — D Xavier Labelle, 18, from Saskatoon; F Logan Hunter, from St. Albert, Alta.; and D Adam Herold, who was to turn 17 on Thursday. Herold spent this season as the captain of the midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians. When their season ended, he joined the Broncos. . . . Labelle, Hunter and Herold all died in the crash.


F Evan Thomas, 18, also died in the accident. From Saskatoon, his father, Scott, played for the Moose Jaw Warriors (1988-91) and Tacoma Rockets (1991-91) and now is involved in hockey as the president of the midget AAA Saskatoon Blazers. Evan was in his first season with the Broncos. . . . F Jaxon Joseph, 20, was the son of Chris Joseph, a defenceman who played with the Seattle Thunderbirds (1985-88) before going on to a pro career that included 510 NHL games. . . . Jaxon played 21 games with the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles in 2015-16, before joining the SJHL’s Melfort Mustangs where he spent last season. He played 16 games with the Mustangs this season before being acquired by the Broncos.


Another email that I received on Saturday evening pointed out that “in my opinion, buses are a terrific mode of transport. I have been riding in/driving a bus for close to 40 years and in that time there are only a couple of times that were scary. Buses, inherently, with their long wheel base are very stable in almost all conditions — fog and black ice being the exceptions. Kudos to all the drivers out there who have done such an outstanding job all these years.” (The afore-mentioned email didn’t come from Bob Ridley.)