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Abuse in hockey needs to be addressed

“https://ogden_images.s3.amazonaws.com/www.miningjournal.net/images/2019/12/06233043/Ryan-Stieg-COLOR-326×500.jpg” alt=”” width=”326″ height=”500″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-828034″ />”He’s a terrible person, the worst I’ve ever met.”

That’s how former Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen said that about former Wings head coach Mike Babcock after he berated Franzen during a game against Nashville in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This was also corroborated by former teammate Chris Chelios, who also gave detailed accounts of Babcock’s “verbal assaults” of Franzen and said it caused Franzen to have a “nervous breakdown.”

“He kicked me, he choked me, he grabbed the back of my jersey and just started pulling it back.”

That’s how former Chicago Blackhawks player Brent Sopel, during a podcast last year, described what current Chicago assistant coach Marc Crawford did to him when they were with the Vancouver Canucks. Former NHLer Patrick O’Sullivan tweeted that he said in his book that Crawford was physically abusive toward him and others, and used homophobic slurs, when O’Sullivan with the Los Angeles Kings.

“He dropped the N bomb several times toward me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music,” and “After years making it to the NHL had experience with the worst coach ever by far. Kicking me and punching other player to the head during the game…then pretending like nothing happened.”

The former was a tweet sent out by former NHL player Akim Aliu and the latter was a tweet from former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman and Czech Republic native Michal Jordan about now-resigned Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters. Aliu’s incident happened when Peters was his coach in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs, while Jordan’s occurred when Peters was the head coach of the Hurricanes.

In the past few weeks, allegations of physical, verbal and emotional abuse have come out from players that they suffered from former coaches and even former teammates. And more seem to be coming with each passing week. Hockey’s dirty secret is finally coming into the public eye and it’s about time.

Imagine you’re a young player and your dream is to play in the NHL. Every day, you lace up your skates in hopes that it will someday come true, even though the odds probably aren’t in your favor as it’s a very difficult goal to achieve. While trying to reach that goal, you have to put up with long practices, grueling road trips and constantly trying to impress a coach who could help you get there.

Then imagine that all the while that coach is screaming at you, hitting you, kicking you and insulting you to the point where you can’t take it anymore. Still, you try to overcome it because that dream of playing in the pros is firmly entrenched in your brain and you desperately want to get there.

Or let’s say, instead of your coach doing so, it’s your veteran teammates hazing you as a rookie. Former NHL forward Daniel Carcillo and professional defenseman Dave Pszenyczny made those allegations last year and they came to light again with the Peters and Babcock incidents were announced.

Pszenyczny said when he was with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League that he was strapped to a table naked and got beaten with a belt by his teammates with head coach Jeff Perry standing by doing nothing and even taking part in a lightly fashion. Carcillo said he witnessed that event and also said he was beaten daily in 2002-03 with the paddle of a goalie stick and rookies were forced to sit on a shower floor while veterans urinated and spit tobacco on them.

Just imagine that happening to you, nobody doing anything to stop it and even your coach taking part in it, even if it was in a joking manner. Chances are you’d be disgusted, humiliated and even abandoned by someone you trust.

After all this information came out, there have been some detractors, mostly moronic fans wondering why these incidents weren’t brought up earlier. The answer is pretty easy for even those numbskulls to understand. Coaches hold an immense amount of power over you. They can determine if you’re in the starting lineup, or how much playing time you get. If you want to climb the ladder to the pros, you have to get as much time on the ice as you can, and do as much as you can when you get it, whether that’s scoring goals or getting wins and saves as a goaltender. The less time you get, the less of a chance you have of succeeding and your dream could die quickly.

If you try to complain to management, the coaches can label you as a problem and ask the general managers to get rid of you. You can get traded or released pretty easily, especially as a younger player and each time it happens, the changes of you making it to the highest level will dwindle. Or even if you are in the NHL, your reputation is tarnished when you haven’t done anything wrong other than tell people that somebody is doing terrible things to you. If your boss is abusing you at your job, you can go to human resources and file a report, or even talk to an attorney. Good luck doing that as a rookie playing under a veteran and respected coach if you have any hopes of continuing your career.

Not to mention that management might not do anything about it. Former Hurricanes and current Seattle general manager Ron Francis is currently in hot water considering the Jordan incident with Peters happened on his watch. He released a statement saying that he took the matter very seriously and that he “took immediate action to address the matter and briefed ownership.” However, former Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos said in an interview with the Seattle Times that he was unaware of what happened and said he would’ve fired Peters in a “nanosecond” had he known about it. So one of those two is obviously lying and it goes to show that even if you report abuse, that doesn’t mean you will get the help you need.

Some are handwringing over these allegations coming out, saying that coaches from all over might have their techniques questioned, or that the old ways of coaching going away, including a couple in the media. But here’s the deal. If you, in any way, did what Peters, Babcock or Perry did, you shouldn’t have been a coach to begin with and your whistle needs to be hung up permanently. And if you’re wondering if your coaching or management methods could be under fire, chances are, they should be.

The rules of coaching in hockey are changing and they should’ve changed a long time ago. Racist and homophobic slurs, bullying and hazing have no place in sports or society in general. The frustrating thing is that all of that has been part of hockey for years, but now, it’s all come to surface where everyone can see it.

O’Sullivan, who was physically abused by his father growing up, sent out a tweet a couple weeks ago saying “Abuse of power has no place in hockey, or in anything else. As someone who went through awful things with my first NHL coach, who knew my abuse background as a child, I hope they all get what’s coming to them and I hope it happens fast.”

If hockey wants to change its image, it needs address abuse at all its levels now because it can’t go on any longer. With each passing incident, a player could be emotionally shattered for life.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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