Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hazed and now no place to play

-- Advised to stay away from Natives hockey club -- Dressing-room hazing details emerge

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A junior hockey player who was hazed by his older Neepawa Natives teammates was told by the team to apologize for speaking out -- if he wanted to rejoin the club.

But he has yet to play. The Natives told him to stay away and he has no immediate prospects of landing on another team. It's a situation that has his parents questioning why their son is being punished.

"Here's a young man who stepped forward and had the intestinal fortitude to do it, where a lot of other kids turned a blind eye to it... so you tell me who the leader is?" the boy's father said Wednesday night.

The MJHL fined the Natives a record $5,000 and handed 16 players suspensions for the incident in late September.

"I'm still frustrated with the fact he's not playing," the father said. "And I'm frustrated because, yes, there were suspensions -- and the biggest ever -- but to me I don't think it's enough for what (his former teammates) did and the fact he's missed more hockey than they have."

The parents' son, who doesn't turn 16 until November, left the Neepawa Natives within days of the incident in late September, when he had a water bottle rack tied around his scrotum, then was made to walk around the team locker room three times.

"And the other players did their thing," his mother added. "They threw towels on the bottles for extra weight."

Several other rookie players were first made to strip to music, and were "scored" by veteran teammates. The players with the lowest scores were made to do pushups with their genitals dangling into pails of ice water.

The player's father -- an assistant coach of the Natives at the time -- said his son refused to strip but was too intimidated to balk at his "punishment." Said the father: "Of course, what's he going to do? You know the mob mentality with 19, 20-year-old veterans who've been around."

The young player later told the daughter of a friend of his father about the incident. The friend told the father, who immediately confronted the Natives' head coach and general manager Bryant Perrier.

"What went through my mind?" he said of hearing about the hazing. "I was in total disbelief. I was ready to go after somebody, but my friend calmed me down."

The father said Perrier -- who has not returned calls from the Free Press -- was stunned upon hearing about the incident. "His (Perrier's) jaw dropped to the floor," the father said.

Even worse, the parent told the head coach his assistant, Brad Biggers, was in the room at the time of the hazing.

The father said Perrier apparently told Biggers, a recent MJHL graduate who in 2009 played for the Dauphin Kings: "What were you thinking? You could end both of our careers."

Perrier repeated his stance to not discuss the matter publicly when interviewed by The Canadian Press.

"The league's done the investigation, the people have been interviewed, the players have been interviewed, everything's been done," Perrier said. "They did an investigation. You want to do a second investigation? This isn't the O.J. Simpson trial."

The Natives notified MJHL commissioner Kim Davis of the incident in the first week of October. Following a lengthy investigation, Davis on Tuesday fined the Natives $5,000 and issued a total of 18 suspensions, including a two-game suspension for Perrier and a five-game suspension for Biggers.

The Natives' captain, Danil Kalashnikov, was suspended five games while assistant captains Richard Olson, Tyler Gaudry and Shane Harrington received three games each.Another 12 players were each suspended for one game. All the suspensions will be served on a rotating basis so the Natives -- dead last in the league standings with a 1-13-1 record entering Wednesday night -- would not have to forfeit any games.

Even so, prior to the investigation the 15-year-old, at the request of Natives management, was told the only way he could return to the team was to apologize to his teammates.

Why? "Because (the team said) he handled it wrong," the father said. "He should have handled it internally instead of speaking to somebody (outside the team) about it."

The player apologized to the team, but was later advised to stay away pending the subsequent investigation.

Both Davis and Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods described the 15-year-old player's actions in coming forward with the hazing allegations as "brave" and "bold."

If so, reasoned the parent, who has since resigned as a Natives assistant coach, then why is his son still out of hockey while his former teammates remain with the team?

"That's the question of the year, isn't it? Because I don't have the answer," he said.

"Why is he (the son) not playing, missing his seventh and eighth game, when the most anybody else got was five?"

The father believes the main instigators of the hazing -- the captain, assistant captains and assistant coach -- should have been suspended for an entire season, although he was satisfied the team and league didn't attempt to cover up the incident or avoid the term "hazing" as opposed to rookie initiation.

"I was happy about that," he noted. "As far as the punishment, no. That doesn't fit the crime."

The father said his son, who has already been selected by a Western Hockey League club in its bantam draft, "was living a dream of playing hockey in his hometown. He had choices to go other places, but he wanted to play here (in Neepawa)."

That is no longer an option, he added, saying he will request Davis and Woods allow his son to play the remainder of the season with another MJHL team -- even if it requires bending league rules.

"There's always exceptions to the rule and this is an exceptional situation," he said.

Both Woods and Davis said they are already investigating options that would allow the player to find a spot on another junior team.

"That situation has to be addressed now," Woods told the Free Press. "The next step will be to identify a process for how the player continues his career. That will have to be dealt with."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2011 A3

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