A former Winnipeg Police Service detective has been appointed as an independent investigator into a hazing incident involving members of the Neepawa Natives, including a 15-year-old victim who came forward.
Manitoba Junior Hockey League commissioner Kim Davis announced Tuesday Ron Bell, who has almost three decades' experience in law enforcement, will oversee the investigation into the incident that has generated headlines across the country. The league had issued the Natives a $5,000 fine and suspended 16 players, plus the head coach and assistant coach.
The decision to appoint an outside investigator was announced last week, after it was determined players originally interviewed by Davis had recanted testimony about the involvement of the assistant coach in the hazing. The coach has since resigned and is now under indefinite suspension.
Davis hopes employing Bell will allay any concerns or questions stemming from the first investigation, which involved inconsistencies in information provided by players and coaches.
"Part of the rationale was to get someone skilled in investigating... and understanding how to get what the real truth is," Davis said, adding the league expects a final report on the incident within a month.
"There is no excuse for this type of inappropriate behaviour," Davis said. "This independent investigation confirms the commitment of the MJHL to deal with this matter expediently and professionally."
Meanwhile, they 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 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, to play for the Natives. When the parents were asked if their son was eager to begin his hockey career in the United States, 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.
-- with files from the Brandon Sun