Sarnia Sting defenceman, Anthony DeAngelo, hasn’t played in two weeks. The last time he saw the ice was during a game against the Guelph Storm on Jan. 31. Up until now, the word had been the talented blueliner had been serving a team suspension issued by head coach Trevor Letowski.
It’s not the first time a player has been disciplined by a coach and it won’t be the last. The situation, though, has been cloudy with Letowski dancing around why exactly he’s decided to sit the highly touted NHL draft prospect.
Those clouds parted on Friday, when the Ontario Hockey League announced they had suspended the native of Sewell, N.J., eight games for violating the league’s harrassment, abuse and diversity policy. It's the second time this season the 18-year-old has been suspended for contravening the rule which attempts to keep homophobic, racist, sexist, and the other derogatory language used by small minds – out of the game.
The minimum suspension for this infraction is five games. Recently, Windsor’s Steven Janes was suspended five games under the same policy. In Janes’ case it was something offensive said to an opponent during a game.
In DeAngelo’s case, what he said was directed at a teammate. The team is tightlipped about what was said and to whom, but it was bad enough for Letowski to take action without waiting for the league to intervene.
“Internally as an organization we made the decision,” said Letowski, a former NHLer and graduate of the Sting. “It was obviously a serious matter. Any time it involves one of our players there has to be a certain respect level. We respect all of our players and it was pretty serious.
“We handled it internally for the first day and then we felt it was important that the league became involved … we completely support the league’s decision.”
The OHL has come a long way in this regard, given its history with hazing (former teammates Steve Downie and Akim Aliu, anyone?) and racism (remember John Vanbiesbrouck and Trevor Daley?).
Bullying – verbal or otherwise - should never be tolerated. But there is something even more sordid, even more pathetic, when the victim is a teammate. As we’ve learned from the recent NFL investigation into Miami Dolphins teammates Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin – what happens in the locker room doesn’t always have to stay there.
Unlike the pro leagues, junior players are usually billeted with families within a short distance of one another. They carpool and go to school together. They spend an inordinate amount of time riding the bus together. They room on the road together. There’s only so much you can do with a $50 weekly stipend, so team movie nights are still a staple of junior life.
Often far from home, the team becomes a second family. What happened in Sarnia sounds like more than the run-of-the-mill fight between brothers. During their investigation, the OHL found DeAngelo “did in fact make a most inappropriate statement to a teammate.”
One has to wonder how DeAngelo’s teammate, his victim, feels about all of this?
“I’ve spoken to him a lot and he’s going to be OK,” said Letowski, prior to Sarnia’s Friday night game against the Knights in London. “I think the penalty was pretty stiff. It was just something that was a heat of the moment thing that kind of got out of control a little bit.
“He’s going to be fine.”
DeAngelo might not be as lucky. This is his draft year and the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau has him ranked 10th among North American skaters for the June draft. He’s already served five games of his suspension which means he’ll be eligible to return on Feb. 22 when the Sting face the Ottawa 67s.
“Anthony made a mistake and he got caught up in the moment,” said Letowski. “It’s something I’m sure he wishes he could take back, but it’s one of these unique moments. The league ruled on it and we fully support it. It’s eight games and he has to pay the penalty.
“We’re just happy to get some closure.”