Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Heads roll amid widening scandal

Indefinite suspension for assistant coach, players leave Natives

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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 a 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 non-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 the head coach, team leaders and assistant coach should have been suspended for up to a year. "That doesn't fit the crime," the father 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."

Club officials also confirmed Friday 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 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 Dalebozik 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 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 followup 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 ongoing.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2011 0

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