LONDON, ONT — When you travel the highways and byways of this country, hockey is omnipresent. It is inescapable, from the smallest burg to the biggest city.
On the outskirts of my hometown, a sign proudly proclaims that the Belleville McFarlands were World Champs in 1959.
On my way to London on Monday, I drove under the Wayne Gretzky Parkway in Brantford, the sign to Cambridge harkened memories of the Galt Hornets of the old OHA Sr. A. loop, and Paris brought to mind the Paris 29ers of the long-forgotten intermediate league.
Now, half the kids in this country can’t even afford to play the national game at an organized level. Not so in elite circles.
Moms armed with stopwatches chronicle how much ice time their kid gets. Dads yell and scream at the underage refs, coaches, players on the other team and often, most acutely, at their own kids.
Now, five members of the 2018 gold medal-winning Team Canada junior team are charged with sexual assault. The four former or current NHLers allegedly engaged in a group sex assault against a young woman known only as E.M.
Charged are: New Jersey Devils Cal Foote and Michael McLeod, both 25, Flyers goalie Carter Hart, 25, the Flames Dillon Dube, 25, and Alex Formenton, 24, who toils in the Swiss league. In addition to the sexual assault charge, McLeod was also charged with sexual assault “by being a party to the offence.”
The squad was being feted in London in June 2018 before some players retired to popular local watering hole, Jacks. According to the allegations, the young woman returned to the Delta Armouries Hotel with one of the players, who reached out to teammates to join in.
Police say she did not consent to the alleged gang sex assault.
On June 19, 2018, her friend called cops who began investigating. But the matter was closed in early 2019 without charges.
At a press conference on Monday, cops remained tight-lipped on why the initial probe came off the rails. The stench hovering in the background were the whiffy machinations of Hockey Canada, which managed to cover up the sickening ordeal — for a while.
We do not know how much the sport’s governing body shelled out to settle the case in a quest to ensure silence, but the complainant sought $3.5 million in her lawsuit.
None of the charges have been proven in court, and the accused are presumed innocent.
To be an elite hockey player in this country is to be a god. From the time these boys are young, they are pampered, indulged and allowed to conduct themselves how they see fit, rising above character points like grace and decency.
When they move away to play Junior A, the influence of their parents — for better or worse — is obliterated. Instead, the team becomes the family. Sure, the players are warned about the dangers, but off the ice, supervision is at a premium.
At a press conference at London, Police Chief Thai Truong was at pains to answer the harrowing questions directed to his beleaguered force by the multitude of reporters in attendance.
Why was the case dropped in 2019? Did the accused skate at the time because they were elite hockey players? Why did it take so long to move the case forward?
For his part, Truong seemed to acknowledge as much as he could that the ball had been dropped.
Citing the complainant’s “courage” and “incredible strength,” he told reporters: “My sincerest apology to the victim, to her family, for the amount of time it has taken to reach this point.”
It wasn’t always like this.
On Bobby Orr’s 65th birthday, a former classmate from his time as an Oshawa General wrote to a newspaper noting Orr wasn’t just a good student and a great guy.
He was more. The Bruins legend “always, always conducted himself as a gentleman”.
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