Junior Hockey Team Sues Michigan Student Paper For Defamation

There's a fascinating story brewing in Ann Arbor and Kitchener, fascinating if you're a follower of junior hockey or student journalism, and hell, even if you're not. It concerns where ninth overall draft pick Jacob Trouba will be playing hockey this fall, and a defamation lawsuit against the Michigan student newspaper that reported it.

Trouba, who was taken by the Winnipeg Jets last month, was selected in the 2010 OHL Draft by the Kitchener Rangers. Just out of high school, Trouba now has a choice ahead of him: play college hockey for the Michigan Wolverines, or go to the OHL and make some money, but forfeit his NCAA eligibility. What an OHL team would normally do in this case is offer something called an education package: reimbursement of tuition, book, and room and board at any university once the player's OHL career is over. The problem with such packages is that they expire just 18 months after leaving the OHL team, and few players take advantage of them, because they're too busy playing hockey in the NHL or elsewhere, or just have no interest in attending college if they're not able to play.

Last week, The Michigan Daily reported, via two OHL sources, that Kitchener had offered Trouba $200,000—in cash, not as an education package—to pull out of his Michigan commitment and come play for the Rangers. Kitchener strongly denied the story, and demanded that the Daily retract the story and issue a formal apology. Their Monday deadline passed, and today Kitchener filed a defamation lawsuit in Ontario court against the Daily, seeking $1 million in damages.

What follows from here should be interesting. I hope an international paper, even a student paper, isn't compelled to reveal its sources. At the same time, a student paper (rightly or wrongly) doesn't get the same benefit of the doubt as a professional outlet. (For what it's worth, Trouba has affirmed his intentions to attend Michigan.) While I'm not up on Canadian libel law, presumably the burden is still on the plaintiff here. So, thorny issues. It's not a good look to sue a student newspaper, but if the story is actually false, and you're not using court as a scare tactic, a lawsuit is the last and best recourse.