Chilliwack Chiefs assistant coach Brad Rihela quit his job at the prestigious North Shore Winter Club after a player was allegedly targeted for bullying by teammates.
According to a report in the National Post, since confirmed by the RCMP, police are investigating an incident that has been characterized as hazing, harassment, sexual assault, humiliation or abuse.
The incident allegedly took place after a practice Dec. 10, with one player holding another in a headlock and touching his buttocks.
Later, during off-ice training, another player allegedly accosted the same boy and allegedly grabbed or was trying to grab his nipples.
The North Shore Winter Club confirmed two players have been suspended following ‘two incidents of bullying,’ but the club’s response wasn’t strong enough in the eyes of Rihela and several hockey player parents.
Rihela resigned as head coach of the team in January.
He and his assistant wanted the players removed from the team, but the NSWC ended up reducing their punishment to short suspensions after their parents weighed in.
“The coach’s job is to create a culture, and the way this was handled didn’t fall in line with my beliefs and values,” Rihela told the National Post. “At the end of the day, I removed myself from the situation because someone had to take a stand.
“I don’t think that these types of behaviours have any place in our game — or anywhere else, for that matter.”
At least one parent, agreeing with Rihela’s feelings on how the situation was handled, has pulled his child out of the NSWC program.
But many parents are reportedly scared to speak up and potentially hurt their child’s chances of making or staying with a NSWC team.
The NSWC is one of the most prestigious youth hockey programs in Canada, with membership that includes the children of former National Hockey Leaguers. The club has sent several players onto the NHL including the likes of Joe Sakic, Kyle Turris, Brendan Morrison, Paul Kariya, Evander Kane and Brett Hull.
The NSWC issued a statement.
“In mid-December, a NSWC family reported that they believed their son was targeted by two other players. The family specifically requested that the club investigate the matter and requested that the club not contact the authorities. The club respected these requests.
“NSWC acted decisively. The coach suspended two players and when the club was notified of the allegations, the NSWC immediately formed a disciplinary committee and upheld the suspensions while the committee investigated.
“After the disciplinary committee concluded there were two incidents of bullying, discipline was bestowed, which included further suspension from team play, writing apology letters, and undergoing a professional anti-bullying session. We feel they have learned from their actions, understand the harm, and we do not expect this to be repeated. The suspensions have been served and the two boys have been reinstated.”
But Rihela believes there should be zero tolerance on something like this.
“What kind of message are we trying to send?” he said. “There is only one way to deal with these situations — we have to teach them to respect the person beside them.”