The Free Press


Staying silent is the problem

Good morning, folks.

Earlier this week, we reported that a former player of the Winnipeg Warriors has filed an affidavit as part of a lawsuit by former junior hockey players against the Canadian Hockey League. In it, the player describes a litany of hazing horrors he experienced during the Warriors’ final season here, and it also alleges that coaches and team staff were aware of these acts and did nothing to stop them.

The head coach of the Warriors that season was Bruce Southern, a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame and a former pro scout with the Winnipeg Jets.

Email and phone requests for comment from Southern initially went unanswered on Monday, but he then responded to deny the allegations after we published the story in Tuesday’s paper.

The equipment manager for the Warriors that season was Craig Heisinger, currently a senior VP and assistant GM of the Jets.

We also tried to get a comment from him on Monday, but he denied the interview request through the NHL club.

It’s not the first time Heisinger has refused to chat about the past. He also denied an interview request made by our Jeff Hamilton as part of his investigation into the life and destructive legacy of disgraced hockey coach Graham James.

Heisinger had an association with James early in his hockey career.

As a teenager, the Jets VP played for the James-coached bantam and midget St. James Canadians. When James took over as coach of the Fort Garry Blues in 1980, he gave Heisinger his first post-playing job as a part-time equipment manager with the team.

The two then worked together on the Warriors — James was an assistant coach — and Heisinger was later a stakeholder in the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, at the time it was owned and coached by James.

Jeff’s interest in talking to Heisinger about James was twofold: did he know anything or see anything during the time he worked with James? Or, assuming he didn’t, perhaps looking back could he offer some insight into a solution to ensure it never happens again?

Heisinger has been an advocate for mental health issues since 2011 with his creation of Project 11 — a program named after former Moose player Rick Rypien, who died by suicide in 2011 after a lengthy battle with depression.

Project 11 promotes mental wellness in students and athletes, so you’d think someone committed to such a cause, someone with the power and position to influence — a voice that could help — would be willing to at least chat about the effects James has had on his victims and the hockey community. Wouldn’t ya?

I scoured the Internet to see if Heisinger has ever been quoted on the James scandal.

In a Maclean's article published in 2011, written while James was on trial here in Winnipeg, Heisinger says "I don’t want to condone any of the s–t Graham did — he crossed the line in a million different ways. But there were some people he gave opportunity to, and I was one of them."

When we first started digging into the James file back in 2012, Paul Wiecek was granted an interview with Heisinger to chat about James but was basically given an extended "no comment." 

Here's what he said: "You can save your breath. I’m not going to say anything about it. I’m not saying nothing. No comment. I’m not commenting on the Graham James situation. I’ve got nothing to say."

So, two things here:

James did far more than cross the line.

And looking at the the Project 11 website, it says the program aims to help kids "develop the understanding that they can positively influence their own mental wellness by learning skills and adopting healthy coping strategies into their lives."

I'd bet anything staying silent is not one of those skills and strategies.

#Let's talk.

As always, folks, you can reach me by replying to this mailing or by sending me an email here.

Our coverage

A Stain on our Game: In Chapter 5 of Jeff Hamilton's report on the life and destructive legacy of Graham James, Jeff looks at how the hockey community's culture of "Speak no Evil" failed to protect the players James was abusing;

Numbers game: CFL teams are officially allowed to re-sign any pending free agents before they hit the open market on Feb. 9. But with teams expected to spend closer to the salary cap floor, most, if not all, players will not be getting what they deserve in 2021. Bombers GM Kyle Walters chatted with the local media Thursday afternoon for over 30 minutes and Taylor Allen has this report on what challenges lie ahead for general managers;

Kyle Walters

Kyle Walters

• Gridiron glory: Manitoba’s reputation as a source of premier football talent got a major upgrade this week when two St. Paul’s High School products signed letters of intent Wednesday to attend Division I NCAA football programs. Mike Sawatzky has a yarn on Zach Lytle, a defensive end, heading to Dartmouth College next fall and linebacker Nathan Carabatsakis accepting a scholarship offer from Pittsburgh’s Robert Morris University.


What we're watching

NHL Season Preview: The Hockey News looks at how the Winnipeg Jets will fare this season;

• Gotta See It: Tiger's son Charlie Woods nails dad's club twirl.

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