Former NHL players are revealing their experiences with abusive figures in the hockey world following allegations that a former coach mistreated players.
In the last week alone Mike Babcock, the highest paid coach in NHL history, was accused of using abusive mind games against his players, and Bill Peters, the current coach of the Calgary Flames, was accused of physical abuse and racism.
Daniel Carcillo, a former agitator for the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, who turned his antagonistic talents against toxic hockey culture after he hung up the skates, has reckoned with his own abuse at the hands of fellow players and coaches. He told VICE that included coach Darryl Sutter who he played with in Los Angeles.
"In L.A., I mean the shit that he did to the guys in front of other guys—belittling them because they had concussions, kicking them out of meetings in front of everybody because they were injured. [He would say] things like, ‘I don't want that fucking energy in this room. Get the fuck out of here.’ It makes your head spin, you know?"
VICE reached out to both the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, where Sutter is currently a coaching advisor, but didn’t hear back.
The toxic underbelly of hockey culture has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. It started with hockey icon Don Cherry being unceremoniously fired by Rogers Sportsnet in the middle of a season after making comments targeting immigrants.
This week, the Toronto Sun revealed that in 2017 Babcock made star Maple Leafs rookie Mitch Marner create a list ranking the hardest worker on the team to the laziest. In a messed up mindgame, Babcock then showed the list to the players Marner deemed the laziest.
In the wake of the Babcock news, former NHLer Akim Aliu laid allegations against Peters, the current coach of the Calgary Flames, saying that in 2009, the 54-year-old then-coach of AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs used the N-word while denigrating hip-hop.
Hours later, Michal Jordan, a former NHL defenceman who played for Peters in Carolina, said Peters kicked him. Jordan said he also saw the coach punching other players. The Flames have put Peters on suspension while they investigate the claims against him. Late Wednesday night Peters released a letter apologizing for his use of the racial slur, it did not address Jordan's accusations.
Carcillo says he wasn’t surprised by what he heard in the stories of Marner, Aliu, and Jordan and expects more to come out in the coming days. Carcillo has spoken openly about hazing rituals he endured as a young man rising through the ranks and how they affected him in the long term.
Since leaving the NHL, Carcillo has created a non-profit helping former players dealing with concussion and mental health issues. Unlike the majority of hockey analysts and people close to the sport, Carcillo is handling the recent allegations of abusive behaviour levied against well-known coaches with hope.
“You know there's so much hurt and guilt being relinquished from people that have kept this inside for how many years,” he said. “There's a lot of healing going on. It's a really amazing day. It really is. Because people are being held accountable.”
“Today's is a fucking beautiful day.”
Like Marner, Carcillo is urging players to tell their stories and said that since the news broke a number of former players and people connected to the sport have come to him with stories.
“[There’s] about 15 to 20 guys who've already sent me names, stories,” said the two-time Stanley Cup champ. “Just sorting through them and what I'm going to do with them… [The stories feature] a lot of verbal and physical abuse. There's a couple that go a little deeper but for the most part, it just courses the line of either verbal or physical trauma that has never been talked about.
Abusive behaviour is not just contained to just the highest levels of hockey. Many Canadians know the tales of screaming, pushing, denigration, and the usual—the “usual” being the key term here.
This week might be a sign of the changing tide, though.
“People are on edge,” said Carcillo. “If you're a coach out there that hasn't been named yet and you know that you've abused someone that's coming, your name will be named.”
“If you're somebody who is guilty of that, I hope you go to bed a little bit uneasy.”
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