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MJHL to re-open hazing investigation

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The widening storm from the hazing in a Neepawa hockey dressing room has triggered the indefinite suspension of an assistant coach and the exit of eight players from the junior team.

And that won’t be the end of this scandal now shining new light on the sordid initiation practice.

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League announced Friday it is reopening its probe of the Neepawa Natives and this time it will have an special independent investigator handling the case.

MJHL commissioner Kim Davis said the case was reopened after it was learned players interviewed in the initial league probe had "lied" about the involvement of the assistant, 21-year-old Brad Biggers.

The new information surfaced during an internal investigation by the team’s executive conducted in the last 48 hours, said Davis.

"They (the Natives board) were obviously confounded by this and very concerned," Davis said. "To make a long story short, they talked to some of the players and basically the players said they lied when they spoke to me earlier. The assistant coach was present during some of the time the hazing went on. Obviously, that’s a significant change to the facts that had been presented to us.

"We just felt it was important to go back and try to see if anything else was unknown to us and go on from there."

Davis had previously conducted a three-week investigation that involved personal interviews with players, coaches, management and consultation with at least four other sports bodies, including Hockey Manitoba.

That investigation resulted earlier this week in the league fining the Natives organization $5,000 and suspending 16 players, the head coach and Biggers. The longest suspensions were five games, issued to both the assistant coach and the team captain.

Biggers later denied being present during the hazing incident – which involved one 15-year-old player being made to tie a water bottle rack to his scrotum and walk around the dressing room.

The father of the 15-year-old, who has since left the team, believed both the head coach, team leaders and assistant coach should have been suspended for up to a year. "That doesn’t fit the crime," he said.

Davis said the players interviewed might have been reluctant to identify the assistant, giving his position of authority.

"I don’t know what their rational was, but it might have been that they didn’t want to get the coach in trouble," Davis said. "I understand that concept."

Club officials also confirmed on Friday that eight players have left or been traded by the Natives team in the last 48 hours. Six players, including Brandon Parrone, 19, Kellen MacBlain, 17, Riley Johnston, 18, Justin Dalebozik, Craig Neufeld and Benji Mcflikier have been released at their own request.

In addition, the Natives on Friday traded two suspended players – defenceman Tyler Gaudry, 20, and forward Richard Olson, 19 – to the Dauphin Kings in exchange for forwards Rikki Alston of Brandon and Derek Falloon, 18, of Russell. The Natives also picked up the MJHL rights to 16-year-old prospect Carter Zalluski as part of the deal with the Kings.

Both Gaudry and Olson had been suspended three games as a result of the league’s hazing sanctions.

McIntosh won’t confirm or deny if the players in question had left the team as a direct result of the hazing incident, but noted, "These players have been under a lot of stress lately."

Parrone was not one of the 16 Natives players suspended. MacBlain, Johnston and Bozak had each been suspended one game each.

Meanwhile, Davis said the league was in the process of finding a new club for the 15-year-old, who left the team shortly after the incident occurred in late September.

"I’m following up on that," Davis said, noting that the player could join a midget-aged team, or have the Natives negotiate a trade to another MJHL team.

Davis said it was too early to comment on who would conduct the review.

"It will be someone who’s skilled in investigating. I don’t know yet," he noted. "’We’re talking to someone, but he’s not in the city right now. We have to firm that up before we can say."

The league has been criticized for not having individuals from outside the hockey community involved in the initial investigation, and suggested any incoming investigator could be independent of sport.

"Certainly it’s not easy and there’s a lot of people complaining," he said. "But we had nothing but the best intentions in terms of trying to get to the truth. And we haven’t covered anything up. But clearly we need to take another look at this."

Could a follow-up investigation lead to further sanctions or suspensions?

"I supposed there could be but I don’t want to speculate at this time," Davis noted. "We’re going to let the investigator do what we’re asking him to do, then make recommendations to us."

Meanwhile, an RCMP probe into the incident remains on-going.

Eight players have left the Neepawa Natives junior hockey team: six asked for their release and two assistant captains were traded.

Six players have left the Neepawa Natives junior hockey team, for undisclosed reasons, including three players who have been suspended.

The hazing incident involving the Neepawa Natives that has mushroomed into a national scandal was reopened after it was revealed some players had "lied" about the involvement of an assistant coach who has since resigned and been indefinitely suspended by the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

The information was derived from an internal investigation by the team’s executive conducted in the last 48 hours, according to MJHL commissioner Kim Davis.

"They (the board) were obviously confounded by this and very concerned," Davis told the Free Press this morning. "To make a long story short, they talked to some of the players and basically the players said they lied when they spoke to me earlier. The assistant coach was present during some of the time the hazing went on. Obviously, that’s a significant change to the facts that had been presented to us.

"We just felt it was important to go back and try to see if anything else was unknown to us and go on from there."

The Free Press has learned that six players have left the team in the last 24 hours — Brandon Parrone, 19, Kellen MacBlain, 17, Riley Johnston, 18, Justin Dalebozik, Craig Neufeld, 19, and Benji Mcflikier, 18.

Natives team president Dave McIntosh said MacBlain and Parrone, who are imports — from Mission, B.C. and Peoria, Ariz., respectively — were granted outright releases. Dalebozik and Johnston had requested to leave the team.

McIntosh won’t confirm or deny if the players in question had left the team as a direct result of the hazing incident, but noted, "These players have been under a lot of stress lately."

However, McIntosh added the Natives, dead last in the standings with a 1-14-1 record, have player turnover in general.

Parrone was not one of the 16 Natives players suspended. MacBlain, Johnston and Dalebozik had each been suspended one game each.

In addition, we’ve now learned that two more Natives players have been traded;  assistant captains Tyler Gaudry and Richard Olsen, who had each been suspended for three games due to the hazing incident, have been dealt to the Dauphin Kings in exchange for forwards Rikki Alston, 18 of Brandon and Derek Fallon, 18, of Russell. The Natives also picked up the MJHL rights to 16-year-old prospect Carter Zalluski in the deal with Dale Zalluski.

Davis had previously conducted a three-week investigation that involved personal interviews with players, coaches and management, and consultation with at least four other sports bodies, including Hockey Manitoba.

That investigation resulted earlier this week in the league fining the Natives organization $5,000 and suspending 16 players, the head coach and the assistant coach. The longest suspensions were five games, issued to both the assistant coach and the team captain.

The assistant coach, Brad Biggers, later publicly denied being present during the hazing incident — which involved one 15-year-old player being made to tie a water bottle rack to his scrotum and walk around the dressing room. Other players were made to do push-ups over a bucket of ice water.

The father of the 15-year-old, who has since left the team, believed both the head coach, team leaders and assistant coach should have been suspended for up to a year. "That doesn’t fit the crime," he said.

Davis said the players interviewed might have been reluctant to identify the assistant, given his position of authority.

"I don’t know what their rationale was, but it might have been that they didn’t want to get the coach in trouble," Davis said. "I understand that concept."

Davis said it was too early to comment on who would conduct the review.

"It will be someone who’s skilled in investigating. I don’t know yet," he noted. "’We’re talking to someone, but he’s not in the city right now. We have to firm that up before we can say."

The league has been criticized for not having individuals from outside the hockey community involved in the initial investigation, and suggested any incoming investigator could be independent of sport.

"Certainly it’s not easy and there’s a lot of people complaining," he said. "But we had nothing but the best intentions in terms of trying to get to the truth. And we haven’t covered anything up. But clearly we need to take another look at this."

Could a follow-up investigation lead to further sanctions or suspensions?

"I suppose there could be but I don’t want to speculate at this time," Davis noted. "We’re going to let the investigator do what we’re asking him to do, then make recommendations to us."

Meanwhile, an RCMP probe into the incident remains ongoing.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 9:14 AM CDT: Updates story with more details from MJHL.

9:22 AM: adds links

12:05 PM: updates with full writethru, quotes from Davis

2:37 PM: updates with information on players who have left team.

3:40 PM: corrects spelling of McBlain

7:30 PM: Adds details throughout.

8:10 PM: Full writethru.

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