NEEPAWA, Man. - The fallout from a junior-hockey hazing scandal now has spread beyond the dressing room.
The player who first reported the hazing is going to be traded, and one of the team's assistant coaches has resigned, Neepawa Natives president Dave McIntosh said.
The local radio station showed its support for the player by suspending all sponsorship and coverage of the team, and phone calls poured into the player's home from other towns and provinces.
“People are calling just randomly from out of town -- it's great, just great,” the 15-year-old's father said.
“He's making an impact. Little does he know that perhaps the next generation of hockey payers might have him to thank that they're not getting touched in the dressing room.”
The father still has a hard time describing what happened in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League team's dressing room late last month.
Some of the rookies were told to dance and remove their clothing as older players watched and judged them, he said. Five of the rookies were then made to walk naked around their locker room with plastic water-bottle crates tied to their genitals by a string and dragging on the floor.
“And the players were throwing towels into the crates to add weight,” the father said Thursday night.
Officials with the team and the league have refused to confirm or comment on the details.
The incident was initially kept quiet, but the 15-year-old later told a friend, and word got back to his father, who went straight to the team.
The team immediately forwarded the information to the league, McIntosh said.
What happened next added insult to injury for the boy and his family. He was suspended from playing and told to apologize to his teammates for telling on them, according to his father.
“The team was loaded on the bus, ready to go on a road trip. They all got off the bus and went back into the dressing room and he apologized to them. How bad is that, making the victim apologize?”
The team will not comment on the father's version of the story, but admits the player was suspended.
“It's difficult to have him in the lineup because the family is so proactively trying to make it look like we're the bad guys that it's pretty tough to accommodate him playing in the group,” McIntosh said.
The league investigated and earlier this week fined the Natives $5,000. Some coaches and players were suspended for up to five games.
The boy has already missed seven games, but will soon be on another team.
“While we were being investigated ... we couldn't make any trades during that time. But now that the (fines) were applied to us on Tuesday, now we can move forward and we can get some direction from the league to have the lad moved to wherever they feel fit for him to be,” McIntosh said.
A trade would suit the boy's family just fine. It's the only way he can be among teammates he can trust, his father said.
“And we just want him back playing hockey.”
One of the team officials who was suspended, assistant coach Brad Biggers, abruptly quit Thursday night.
“He sent it to me in a text (message) ... and I accepted it,” McIntosh said.
And the owner of radio station CJ97 in Neepawa, Bill Gade, announced he was ending his partial sponsorship of the team and would refuse to even mention the team on air for at least one year.
“We're not punishing the team for the fact the hazing happened, we're punishing them for the fact they're refusing to deal with it,” Gade said from his office in Swan River.
The turmoil has rocked the small town, and has taken a toll on the boy at the centre of the storm. But phone calls of support, including one from former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy - a player who was abused as a boy by coach Graham James - have helped him get through the ordeal.
“Sheldon Kennedy gave him his personal cell phone (number) and said `any time you want to talk to me about this just phone me, doesn't matter what time of day it is',” the father said.
“My son was going 'Wow'.”
The boy is now looking toward a bright future in hockey. There are 11 teams in the MJHL, two in Winnipeg and the rest in smaller towns and cities throughout the province.
“He was at that point in time where he was thinking `Did I do the right thing? Did I wreck my hockey career by doing this?',” the boy's father said.
“We told him right from the get-go 'you're not going to wreck your hockey career ... you're making a statement that what happened is wrong and that it has to be corrected so that it doesn't happen again'.”