When former Sting forward Daniel Carcillo went public last fall with revelations of hockey ‘hazing’ that took place while a rookie in Sarnia, the impact was felt here and abroad.
In the weeks that followed, several teammates confirmed the gruesome allegations, and added a few of their own.
How could this happen? Where were the coaches, and where were his parents? Many fingers were pointed at the Ontario Hockey Leagues and those who once ran the Sting organization.
But for some of us who played minor hockey it wasn’t all that surprising.
During my short and unremarkable hockey career there was little left unsaid in the dressing rooms. Looking back, I remember it was more than sweat that made the dressing room reek; there was also a haze of misogyny and homophobia.
Slower, weaker players were ridiculed and bullied regularly, and the most common put-downs came at the expense of women and homosexuals. Shocking today but normal in the ‘90s.
I remember one season in which our 20-something coaches compared the offensive zone to female anatomy. You can imagine what the net represented.
We all laughed, we all took part. That’s what you do when you’re a 14-year-old boy without guidance from progressive mentors. It was accepted, and if you didn’t like it you shut up anyway for fear of becoming the next target.
After the game, conversations examined your on-ice performance – not what happened or was said in the dressing room. Mental health? That wasn’t even a thing.
My hockey career didn’t amount to much. I soon realized I’d do better writing about the game than playing it. But the unbridled toxic masculinity and bullying still resonate with me today.
After he left Sarnia, Daniel Carcillo went on to a successful 15-season NHL career distinguished by two Stanley Cups. What’s less mentioned is the Toronto native spent 1,200 minutes in the penalty box and was hated throughout the league for his brash and dirty style of play. Even legendary blowhard Don Cherry called him a “bully.”
But if you review Carcillo’s highlights – available in numerous YouTube videos – you might see them in a whole new light, given what we now know.
How much of that anger on the ice arose from his abuse as a teen?
“It’s not a weakness to speak about your feelings, it’s a strength,” Carcillo told me on the phone last month.
“When you speak honestly and vulnerably you can hopefully impact a life.”
The former enforcer organized a peer support meeting in Sarnia on Feb. 15 for hockey players and family members who have experienced bullying and abuse. More than a dozen families took part.
Let’s change the dialog on bullying and abuse in the game we love. And let’s ensure our national pastime has a positive impact on our children’s lives.
Even if they are lousy at the game.