• Calgary minor hockey club investigates 'disturbing' video that shows boy passing out, convulsing
    CBC

    Calgary minor hockey club investigates 'disturbing' video that shows boy passing out, convulsing

    A Calgary minor hockey club says it is investigating a "disturbing video" that ends as a boy collapses and convulses on the floor while his teammates laugh. The video, sent to CBC News by a parent of a player in the association, shows a youth bent over in a locker room shower, surrounded by other players from his U15 hockey team — some of whom are filming on their cellphones. One of the boys counts "26, 27, 28, 29, 30." At the count of 30, the young teens push the boy in the centre up to the wall with their hands firmly against his chest. As the boy's head rolls back, one boy says "he's out, he's out." Another boy pours water over the seemingly unconscious boy's head and the boys pull their hands back from his chest, laughing, as the boy collapses on the floor.  Then, the boy on the floor begins to seize, and the laughter turns nervous, interjected with exclamations of "oh sh-t, oh f-ck." The boy comes to, confused, and one says "you had a f-cking seizure, man." The video was shot on Monday evening. CBC News has blurred the faces of the boys in the video to protect their identities, as they are minors.  WATCH | 'Disturbing' locker room video shows young hockey player convulsing: It's unclear whether the act shown in the video is a form of the choking game, where kids practice forms of self-strangulation in order to achieve a brief high, or a hazing ritual.  A second video, shot in the same locker room, shows two of the players — both wearing helmets and gloves — exchanging blows as other kids film and cheer them on. After multiple hits to the head by both parties, one of the boys is thrown to the floor.  Both videos also shows no physical distancing — the players all stand close to each other, unmasked. It's unclear whether the water bottle dumped on the boy was clean or if another player had drank from it before it was poured on his teammate's head. The Northwest Warriors Hockey Association, a minor hockey club in northwest Calgary, said in a statement sent out to parents on Saturday afternoon that it has received the video and that it took place in one of its team's dressing rooms. CBC News contacted the association to request an interview on Friday and has yet to receive a response.  "The video was disturbing and gives a black eye to the hockey community as a whole," the email read. It is a dangerous game ... you should not try this at home. -Dr. Eddy Lang The association said it takes the incident seriously, is investigating and will apply appropriate sanctions. "As leaders within the hockey community we must work to put a stop to this type of behaviour and educate our athletes on how it affects all involved," it said. "As an organization we do not tolerate violent and dangerous behaviour and our athletes need to be reminded that engaging in that type of behaviour will be met with zero tolerance." The parent who shared the videos said they are deeply concerned, both by the players' behaviour and the handling of the event by the association. CBC News has agreed not to identify the parent as they are concerned about negative repercussions for themselves and their child within the hockey community.  "The players involved in the incident were allowed to play with no clear consequences to their actions and without a thorough investigation by an impartial, non-biased party. The board did not respond until the video became public, to those involved or affected by the events that occurred," the parent said. Doctor says incident could have ended tragically Dr. Eddy Lang, head of the department of emergency medicine at the University of Calgary, said by cutting off blood flow to the brain, the stunt easily could have ended in tragedy. "It's unlikely that he would suffer permanent damage from this but it's still an unwise game to engage in," he said. "He ... could have fallen to the ground and hit his head. The loss of consciousness might not have been so brief and he could have in theory vomited and aspirated into his lungs."  Lang said he worries sharing the video could present a copycat risk. "You can see how young boys might see a thrill in having someone lose consciousness or be brave enough to be the victim of such a hazing or game, but there is a risk there, for sure," Lang said. "It is a dangerous game ... you should not try this at home." Hockey Calgary says player privileges temporarily revoked Kevin Kobelka, executive director of Hockey Calgary (the governing body for amateur hockey in the city), said he first heard about the incident on Friday. He contacted the association and asked them to act immediately. He said the association has formed a working group to investigate and interviews with families involved are scheduled for as early as Sunday. "As of this time, all players and coaches that are a part of that cohort have had their hockey playing privileges removed … as the investigation goes on," he said. "It's unfortunate but we have to act swiftly and do the right thing." Kobelka said coaches are expected to be in and around the dressing room and monitoring players' behaviour. "We're not even allowed into rinks more than 20 to 25 minutes before an ice session right now. So all of this happened in a very short period of time, which is even more surprising," he said.  Kobelka said he's hoping the investigation will be completed within a week.  WATCH | Former NHL player says hockey culture protects abusers Conversations around hazing, abuse and other dangerous behaviours in minor hockey have been at the forefront in recent years, following multiple allegations from former players and a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League.  Hockey Calgary's hazing policy describes the practice as a form of initiation that may "humiliate, demean, degrade, or disgrace a person regardless of location or consent of the participant(s)." It says any player, team or association found by investigation to have condoned, initiated or participated in hazing will be disciplined, which could include suspension or expulsion from Hockey Calgary programs.

  • CHL leagues at mercy of pandemic, politics while formulating return-to-play plans
    CBC

    CHL leagues at mercy of pandemic, politics while formulating return-to-play plans

    Knowing the Western Hockey League plans to begin play again on Jan. 8 has brought a sigh of relief from Zack Ostapchuk and some of the other players he's training with in St. Albert, Alta. "I think everybody is pretty excited," said Ostapchuk, a 17-year-old forward with the Vancouver Giants. "We were all a little worried that we weren't ever going to start. Now that we've got a date, the energy on the ice and in the dressing room is completely changed. Everybody's positive now, but I just want to get going." Ostapchuk's enthusiasm may still be tempered by the realities faced by the people operating Canada's three major junior hockey leagues as they deal with the issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic. "We never know from day to day what the situation is going to be," said Gilles Courteau, commissioner of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. "Every day there's something new." The 18-team QMJHL opened its season Oct. 2, but about two weeks later suspended play in both of its Quebec-based divisions because of positive tests on two teams. Play continued for five of the six teams in the league's Maritimes division. The Ontario Hockey League hopes its 20 teams can begin play in December but "there's no specific date at this point," commissioner David Branch said. The Canadian Hockey League announced March 12 it was cancelling the remaining games in the 2020 regular season due to COVID-19. A few weeks later the Memorial Cup, scheduled for Kelowna, B.C., was cancelled. Players, team officials and executives across Canada were left wondering when junior hockey would return. "My whole summer has been getting questions I can't answer," said Barclay Parneta, general manager of the Vancouver Giants. The closed border between Canada and the United States creates problems for both the OHL and WHL which have U.S. based teams. Travel restrictions within Canada, protecting players' health and rising infection rates in some provinces have presented more hoops league officials have tried to jump through. "Without question, it's the most difficult challenge I've ever faced both domestically and internationally in hockey in 40 years," said Ron Robison, commissioner of the 22-team WHL. "We never envisioned this. But we are in this together and we have to find ways to deal with it under the circumstances." Leagues still aren't sure exactly how many games each team will play. None have finalized their playoff plans and details for the Memorial Cup haven't been announced. A reduced number of fans can attend games in some parts of the country but might not be allowed in other buildings. The QMJHL hopes to resume playing on Oct. 28 but Courteau said talks are continuing with the Quebec government. Six of the 12 teams are located in red zones, where organized sport is prohibited. "It's not determined yet, so I cannot give you an answer," he said. The league said Thursday that a player with the Drummondville Voltigeurs had tested positive for COVID-19. Provincial involvement Politicians are also throwing a few bodychecks. In Ontario, provincial sport minister Lisa MacLeod has suggested the OHL should eliminate bodychecking and physical contact if it wants to hold a safe season. "There's a lot of things that we are discussing with the provincial government," Branch said. "The whole package in terms of our return to play will become a critical piece. We'll just see where that ends up." In Quebec, Enrico Ciccone, a former NHL enforcer and now a Liberal Member of the National Assembly has presented a bill to prohibit fighting in sports for athletes younger than 18. Courteau said QMJHL officials are studying the proposed bill. Across the country, owners – who already lost revenue from last year's cancelled games and playoffs – are now facing the possibility of losing more money because of no fans. "The losses are very, very significant," Robison said. "It could threaten the ability for teams to be viable moving forward." Courteau said the 12 Quebec-based teams in the QMJHL will receive $1 million each from the provincial government to offset some of their losses. The league's six Maritimes teams have been allowing fans, ranging from 18 to 25 per cent of the building capacity. To help formulate its return the WHL appointed Dr. Dhiren Naidu as chief medical advisor. Naidu served as the NHL medical director for the Edmonton hub used during this summer's NHL playoffs The WHL has teams stretched across four provinces and two U.S. states. "There's lots of challenges associated with the different jurisdictions and the conditions [of] the level of cases and how that's impacted on the communities where we operate, and the facilities for that matter," Robison said. "We're all aware of the fact that we're dealing with very unique circumstances. We're trying to do our best to work our way through this." Ostapchuk said the players understand and appreciate the efforts being made for them. "We just want to play," he said. CHL return-to-play plans A look at how the three major junior hockey leagues hope to return to play during COVID-19 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Date: League began play on Oct. 2, but Quebec-based teams paused about two weeks later after positive tests on two teams. Hopes to resume Oct. 28 Schedule: The 18-team league is divided into two Quebec divisions of six teams each plus six teams in a Maritimes division. The teams hope to play a 60-game schedule within their own divisions Playoff Format: TBA: Fans: Maritime Division teams have been allowing fans, ranging from 18 to 25 per cent of the building capacity. Western Hockey League: Date. Jan.8. Schedule: The 22-team league will be split into four divisions. Seven teams from Saskatchewan and Manitoba will play in the East Division. Five Alberta teams will play in the Central Division. Five B.C. teams play in the B.C. Division. Four US teams will play in U.S. Division. Teams will only play within their division. Exact number of games to be determined but up to 52 games possible. Playoff Format: TBA. Fans: Will depend on different jurisdictions. Ontario Hockey League: Date: Hopefully December but no specific date yet. Schedule: Still being developed for the 20-team league, with three U.S. franchises. Playoff Format: TBA Fans: To be determined.

  • Akim Aliu, Vanessa James, Asher Hill know fight for diversity on ice is just beginning
    CBC

    Akim Aliu, Vanessa James, Asher Hill know fight for diversity on ice is just beginning

    The landscape on ice is changing rapidly. For years, hockey and figure skating have been dominated by white athletes, and to varying degrees, they still are today. But three Black competitors on the sixth season of CBC's Battle of the Blades — former NHLer Akim Aliu and figure skaters Asher Hill and Vanessa James — are making efforts to change that. Aliu first spoke about the racism he experienced in hockey in November, when he said he was targeted by then-Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters while the two were in the minor leagues together. Peters was fired soon after. That revelation became the tip of the iceberg, with multiple other NHL coaches being called out for abuse. In May, as the NHL was getting set to restart its season amid a worldwide racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd, Aliu and a group of BIPOC hockey players formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA). WATCH | Aliu, James, Hill discuss diversity in respective sports: Requests to NHL Aliu, 31, was born in Nigeria and lived in Ukraine until he was seven and moved to Toronto. He serves as co-head of the organization alongside San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane which pledges "to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey." In July, the HDA made a series of requests to the NHL including more inclusive employment practices and supporting social justice initiatives that target racism, among other asks. Earlier this month, unsatisfied with the NHL's response, the HDA cut ties with the league over what it called "performative public relations." "It would be a lot easier to implement some of the things we want to do in some of the NHL cities with their fans and with their following but they're not there yet," Aliu told CBC Sports' Jacqueline Doorey. "They feel that things are good status quo and we don't, so we feel it's up to us to take the reins of the conversation and I do believe that sooner or later they'll have no choice but to jump on board." Aliu said he's encouraged by the first few months of the HDA despite the difficult relationship with the league. "I think we found a little bit of trouble getting pulled in different directions with some of the objectives and missions that we had, but we stuck together as a group and I feel like we're doing a lot of good in the game of hockey right now and in society as well," he said. The goal now is to ensure the conversation around racial injustice in hockey doesn't get swept under the rug. "We didn't want it to be a moment, we wanted it to be a movement. So we don't want it to be one of those trendy topics like it's been in the past," Aliu said. Aliu is paired on Battle of the Blades with James, a six-time French pairs champion, 2018 Grand Prix Final champion and 2019 European champion. The two are skating for The Time To Dream Foundation, which aims to make youth sports more inclusive and accessible. WATCH | Powerful pause in sports: Transition to figure skating James says Aliu is making the transition from hockey to figure skating quite swimmingly. "He's phenomenal, he's a hard worker, he's naturally talented, very agile and flexible and he has these long legs that make beautiful lines when they're straight. He's doing a great job," James said. The two have already made a solid connection due to their shared experiences in predominantly white sports. James is also part of the Figure Skating Diversity and Inclusion Alliance (FSDIA), which carries similar goals to Aliu's HDA. "There's always been a little bit of isolation and not feeling included. … If you look at [clothes] for figure skating, you don't find tights for Black girls or people of colour, you don't find skates that are the same colour, it's hard to find matching things like that. So it gives the idea they're not welcomed," James said. For James, the main goal is to ensure the next generation of figure skaters feel welcomed in their sport. Hill, a 29-year-old ice dancer paired with hockey player Jessica Campbell, is skating for FreedomSchool – Toronto, which aims to intervene on anti-Black racism in the school system. His mindset is similar to James in trying to create a more inclusive sport than he came into, and he's also a member of the FSDIA. "I think oftentimes we don't see Black people in winter sports, [it's] assumed that we don't like the cold or we're afraid of ice [or that] it's a white man's sport or a white person's sport," Hill said. "But it's just if you have access and if you're able to do it and I think having the representation of so many Black athletes will show that you can occupy any space as long as you have the opportunity." Hill is aiming to create more opportunities and accessibility in the figure skating community. Like Aliu, he says the sport's organizations fall short. "I think it comes down to the mindset of the gatekeepers and the leaders in the sport which are our coaches and our federation heads. … It's just changing the mindset that anyone can be part of figure skating as long as you give the opportunity," Hill said. Along with Aliu, James and Hill, former NHLer Anthony Stewart rounds out the Black skaters on the newest edition of Battle of the Blades. Beyond the ice, junior Canadian champion and international competitor Elladj Baldé will serve as a judge and singer Keshia Chanté joins Ron MacLean as a co-host. "I think it's a beautiful cast because there's so much diversity and so much inclusion," James said. The season premiere airs Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.