The Neepawa Natives are reeling from the fallout of a hazing incident, but the commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League doesn’t believe the immediate future of the team is in doubt.
"I have many conversations daily with their president (Dave McIntosh), and that would be the shock of all shocks if that were to happen," Kim Davis said Monday afternoon on whether the team would fold.
McIntosh also shot down the rumours of the club’s demise. "There’s no truth to it whatsoever, as we speak," the Natives’ president said.
"This has been a tough situation for the hockey club ... but the reality is that we have a hockey team that we’ve committed to our partners in the league we’re going to ice our hockey team for the year," McIntosh added. "I honestly don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be able to fulfil our obligation to our league partners."
As of this morning, the club’s website is still down.
Players and coaches continue to serve rotating suspensions handed down following an investigation into a late September incident in which five rookie players were subjected to a degrading initiation ritual in the dressing room.
The club was fined $5,000, while 16 players, head coach Bryant Perrier and assistant Brad Biggers were suspended following a league investigation into the incident.
Biggers has since left the team and has been suspended indefinitely by the league, which reopened its investigation after several players recanted their original testimony.
Today, Davis is expected to introduce the independent investigator brought in to take a second look at the incident and the resulting testimony.
"There has been some (progress), but I’m not at liberty to say yet," Davis said.
Meanwhile, RCMP in Neepawa are continuing their investigation into the incident.
The youngest victim of the hazing incident – who was drafted as a bantam by the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings -- is apparently leaving the country to continue his hockey career.
The player, whose identity is being protected, has decided to go to Nebraska to join the Omaha AAA Hockey club to play for former NHLer David Wilkie in the North American Prospects Hockey League.
"He will be totally out of sight, out of mind and he will be able to concentrate on playing hockey and focusing on playing for the Wheat Kings (in the future)," said Darryl Wolski, an associate who works with agent Gerry Johannson at The Sports Corporation.
The player's parents confirmed they are currently making arrangements for the Omaha transfer, including passports, visas and education in Nebraska. A billet has already been found by the team.
"It’s as confirmed as it could be from our end," the mother said. "Now we’re just waiting (for logistics and approval to be worked out)."
The NAPHL has teams at various age groups spread throughout the country, which compete largely at the tournament level.
"We’re hoping to have him down there within two weeks," the player’s father said, noting that Wilkie’s Lancers had room for one more import spot. The Lancers began recruiting the 15-year-old in the summer, but he decided to stay in his hometown instead.
When the parents were asked if their son was eager to begin his hockey career in the U.S., the father replied: "Very. In fact, he was the one who made the ultimate decision."
The young player left the Natives after the incident and has missed the club’s last 10 games.
-- Brandon Sun