Dan Carcillo, along with former Western Hockey League player Garrett Taylor, has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League that amounts to a smorgasbord of accusations to turn your stomach. Some of the worst include younger players being violated with hockey sticks, being forced to do cocaine or drink to the point of sickness and blackouts, and being forced to masturbate in front of teammates - all with either the willful ignorance or even giddy support of coaches and staff.
While the stories themselves are ghoulish, vile, and revolting, what they aren’t is much of a surprise. Stories and leaks of what junior hockey players go through have been a part of hockey forever. Just last month, Akim Aliu documented how refusing to be locked naked in a bus bathroom disconnected him from his teammates permanently. He’s hardly alone.
These kinds of incidents amongst Junior hockey leagues and teams are what can, and has, happened when hockey men are free to run a league full of hockey boys with only hockey men to answer to. Junior leagues are not connected to any school board or college athletics, though both of those relationships have not stopped high school and college athletes from being abused in the same way on this side of the 49th parallel. This is also a reason a good number of hockey players don’t finish high school, because going to class is not contingent upon their participation with their junior teams. Youth hockey consists of an uncultured and uneducated mass leading a younger uncultured and uneducated mass, and this is what you can get.
The vulnerability of young players in the CHL is what makes this truly chilling. Most of them are away from home and parents, living with strangers, and the only structure they know is their team and dressing room. It is not a huge leap that 15- and 16-year-olds feel they have nowhere to turn when older players and coaches are putting them through this kind of horrifying hazing. Where is their support system? Who’s watching out for them? That’s assuredly one of the aims of this lawsuit: The creation of some kind of oversight and support.
This is hardly the only lawsuit or controversy facing the CHL these days, as this article from The Hockey Writers points out. They just settled one over claims of players not being paid a fair wage, and have another one about a former player’s head injuries not being properly cared for.
Canada is hardly alone in this. Katie Strang of The Athletic has been documenting how a coach in the Illinois youth hockey set-up preyed on players for a decade.
Carcillo has always felt like an odd vessel for the right messages for hockey. He’s been outspoken about the lack of mental health care in the sport. Or its complete dismissal of head injuries. He’s even addressed the racism and lack of diversity in the NHL. And this comes from a former player who definitely tried to injure people repeatedly, showing then a distinct lack of respect to players’ well-being that he now advocates against. Who has been accused of being a racist himself. Who almost certainly is responsible for others’ head injuries.
But recognizing past behavior and trying to make up for it is a necessary step, and not enough are taking it, especially in hockey. And now Carcillo, along with Taylor, is taking on what they say is the root of all of it, The Canadian Hockey League.
Teammates of Carcillo from that time have backed his story.
It would appear the junior level of hockey is headed for a much-needed reckoning, especially if the class-action suit gains a large number of additional complainants. It certainly needs an overhaul in its culture, which has been a bastion of toxic male culture for decades. The nature of the sport and facilities means teenagers will still have to travel to play hockey at the highest levels of their age group. Carcillo’s and Taylor’s lawsuit can hopefully provide them far greater protection than they’ve had before, as well as bring to light what all those before have faced.