Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Clean Slate


    Hockey Canada has announced a slate of nine people, five women and four men, it's chosen from among hundreds of nominees to lead the organization out of the scandal in which it's been embroiled for months. The previous board stepped down, some reluctantly, in October, months after news they had paid to settle a sexual assault claim came to light.
     In May, TSN's Rick Westhead broke the story that Hockey Canada had settled with a young woman who claimed to have been assaulted by eight players, including members of the 2018 World Junior team. His work led to the revelation that the governing body actually had a fund available to cover other such claims. There were 21 settlements, totaling nearly eight million dollars, going back to 1989.
    In the wake of Westhead's story, sponsors abandoned Hockey Canada, government suspended its funding and member provincial organizations declined to send any further player fees to the national body. In the end, there was no choice but for the board to step down and new blood infused.
    Hockey Canada members will vote on Saturday on whether to accept the new executive board. If they choose to do so, the organization, presumably, will be granted a fresh start in public opinion.


    While Hockey Canada was trying to do damage control amidst its sex scandal this past summer, the Canadiens were trying to figure out what to do with their 2021 first-round draft pick. By now we all know what happened with Logan Mailloux. He was intimate with a young woman in Sweden when he was 17, and shared a photo of their interaction with teammates, without her knowledge. That's illegal and he was convicted of breaking the law and fined.
    Mailloux' actions were immature, careless, entitled and even cruel. The victim asked for an apology, which she claims was offered half-heartedly, at first. Following the news of his offense coming to light back home, Mailloux, in his NHL draft year, seemed to finally realized the seriousness of his actions and asked pro teams not to draft him because he wasn't ready.

     “The NHL Draft should be one of the most exciting landmark moments of a player’s career, and given the circumstances I don’t feel I have demonstrated strong enough maturity or character to earn that privilege in the 2021 Draft,” he said in a statement.
    The Canadiens' Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins, of course, went there anyway after many other teams ruled out drafting Mailloux. That kicked off an embarrassing round of backpedaling and "separating the person from the hockey" comments. 
    "The Canadiens are aware of the situation and by no means minimize the severity of Logan's actions," the team announced. "Logan understands the impact of his actions. His recent public statement is a genuine acknowledgment of his poor behavior and the first step on his personal journey.
    "We are making a commitment to accompany Logan on his journey by providing him with the tools to mature and the necessary support to guide him in his development. We are also committed to raising awareness among our players about the repercussions of their actions on the lives of others."
    Now, going on two years later, Mailloux still sits in professional limbo. He remains in junior with the London Knights, where he's putting up good numbers in a league where he physically dominates most other, younger players. He's missed significant development time with a serious shoulder injury and an OHL suspension for his actions in Sweden. The Canadiens invited him to development camp at the beginning of this year, where he was unable to play because of the shoulder, but they signed him to a three-year contract in October anyway. 

    Still, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly say Mailloux is not eligible to play in the NHL or its AHL professional development league until he gets their approval. Which will be...when? Just a month ago, the commissioner confirmed Mailloux hasn't received their blessing yet. In light of the Hockey Canada scandal, one must wonder why the NHL maintains such a double standard.


    Logan Mailloux isn't a sure-fire future NHLer. He's got skill and size, but he's missed a lot of development time between his suspension, injury and the pandemic. His crime in Sweden has deeply impacted his hockey life, and, one would hope, his personal maturity. 
    However, he's still a 19-year-old hopeful who's spent the last two years publicly living down one of the worst things he's likely ever done. He's been named and shamed, criticized and condemned, written off and written about. He has owned up to his wrongdoing and apologized. He's willingly undergone counselling and faced embarrassing media questions with candour. He's committed to finding a way to give back to victims of crimes like his (though we've yet to see what that will be). He will carry the stigma of his past stupidity forever.
    At the same time, the eight Hockey Canada players who allegedly assaulted that young woman in 2018...accused of forcing themselves on her sexually while she was drunk...remain anonymous. They didn't face a trial, either in the courts or in public opinion. Whoever they are, some or all of them may be playing in the NHL or AHL right now. Not one of them has been publicly sanctioned by Bettman and Daly, admitted their part in the alleged assault, apologized or vowed to do better.
    Hockey Canada, by settling with the victim in that case, with the knowledge of the NHL, effectively brushed a crime arguably more egregious than Mailloux's away in the hope nobody would find out. Those players got away with their actions unscathed, while Mailloux is still pilloried for his own.


    Science has proven that at age 17, the brain's prefrontal cortex has not fully developed and doesn’t complete its growth until approximately early to mid 20s. Its job is to perform reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control. Without the fully developed prefrontal cortex, a teen might make poor decisions and lack the ability to discern whether a situation is safe or appropriate. Teens tend to experiment with risky behavior and don’t fully recognize the consequences of their choices.
    Which all goes to say, teenage boys will make stupid mistakes, like showing off their sexual conquests to their buddies. That's why they need to be taught right from wrong by adults who can lead them to making sensitive (and legal) decisions. That's also why the Criminal Code of Canada doesn't name minors who break the law.

    Yet, even though Hockey Canada has been paying off assault victims for decades, it only announced this past summer it would make training about sexual misconduct for junior players...what it is and its consequences for all involved...mandatory. The organization has known about this toxic and criminal behaviour for a very long time, but only public scandal forced its hand on taking action.
    This is the culture in which young male hockey players grow up. Good players, especially in small towns where they tend to be idolized, especially by young female fans, are gifted a level of permissiveness nobody else their age receives. Their talent is more important than their behaviour in a world where skill gets you to the next level and the coaches and parents who dream of a kid going pro enable actions that would, in anyone else, be appropriately punished.
    Hazing, underage partying and misguided ideas about sex are rife in junior hockey, but in the past have been let go by adults whose vicarious hopes and real-life jobs depend on these young players. How is a 17-year-old raised in that environment supposed to understand the seriousness of "jokingly" sharing a sex pic with his teammates?
    None of this is meant to excuse Logan Mailloux's behaviour of course. But Hockey Canada and the NHL created the circumstances that enable decisions like his and in the past have been complicit in these situations by hiding them with no consequences for the perpetrators. Singling out the kid who made a terrible choice and has paid for it is hypocritical and disingenuous to an astonishing degree.
    So, if the new Hockey Canada board wants to make a real difference, outside of cynically doing what it must to restore its prestige, it needs to start with players like Mailloux. If he's truly remorseful and wants to help, he can be an example for others in a positive way. His story can be educational and maybe inspire his peers to understand why they can't use their privilege to harm others. And Hockey Canada needs to take responsibility for the actions of the players who represent it by ceasing the secret payouts to victims and making the perpetrators own their behaviour publicly.
    As for Bettman, Daly and the NHL, if they're going to ban players for doing wrong, it must be all of them...not just the kid who's ended up living his shame in public. And if they're as shocked and dismayed by Mailloux's behaviour as they claim to be, they need to step up and fund training, oversight and clear definitions of appropriate behaviour...with clear consequences...for the next generations of kids who will pay their salaries.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Platforms and Politics


    In the late afternoon of December 6, 1989, a man who disliked feminists and disagreed with women making careers in traditionally male-dominated fields, armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife and entered Γ‰cole Polytechnique, the engineering school associated with the University of Montreal.         
    Once inside, he separated male students from the females and allowed the men to leave the building. Then he opened fire, murdering GeneviΓ¨ve Bergeron, HΓ©lΓ¨ne Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse LaganiΓ¨re, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, MichΓ¨le Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz. He also shot and wounded 13 others, mostly women who had dared study to be engineers. Their lives were never the same.
    Five days after the attack, the Governor General, Prime Minister, Quebec premier and mayor of Montreal, along with thousands of mourners, attended a joint funeral for nine of the women. In the aftermath, the federal and Quebec governments and the victims' families launched research projects into the prevention of violence against women. Lobbying by family members and feminist groups, among others, led to the establishment of the Canadian Firearms Act, which restricts the kinds of guns people can own, and who can own them. 
    Now, December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. There are vigils on that day across the country, and a white-ribbon campaign started by a group of Ontario men to symbolize their solidarity with the women who are hurt and killed by armed men. In Montreal, fourteen spotlights are lit on the summit of Mount Royal on the anniversary, and the names of the Polytechnique victims read aloud. There are plays and books and songs about the murders, including "Montreal," by the Tragically Hip.
    This is information that people who support the pro-gun lobby in Canada, especially in Montreal, should know.


    So, on December 3, when the Canadiens' Carey Price decided to take to social media in his camouflage and hunting rifle to protest Bill C-21, which tightens controls on access to handguns and semi-automatic rifles like the one used in the Polytechnique shootings, the timing was bad. Very bad.
    His public stance immediately divided opinion about him along political lines; pro-gun lobbyists who see him as a voice for their desire to loosen gun restrictions, and those who think gun laws don't go far enough in preventing firearms violence. His decision to support the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, which recently offered an online promo code labeled "POLY," further alienated fans who know and respect the legacy of December 6.

     Price, as so many with a public platform and not enough information do, made matters worse when he claimed not to know about the Polytechnique killings, and doubled down on his stance that the federal government is taking legitimate hunters' weapons away, which is untrue. (The Prime Minister and Bloc Quebecois leader, among many others, have stressed legitimate hunting rifles and shotguns will not be banned.) He added he didn't know about the "POLY" promo code of the group he claims to stand behind.
    Of course, Price is far from the first athlete to have used his public platform for political reasons, the most recently famous of them being former NFLer Herschel Walker, who's in a run-off vote for Senator in the US state of Georgia. Walker has repeatedly lied, made fantastical statements and displayed mortifying levels of ignorance in his campaign, but because of his sporting history and celebrity, still managed to attract enough support to have forced that run-off. Critics blame the Republican Party for taking a willing dupe and using him to push forward its own political interests.
    When Price made his comments, the gleeful support of the CCFR and Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre were almost instant.
    "Carey is absolutely right. Hunting is a great Canadian tradition. Trudeau’s attempts to ban hunting rifles are an attack on rural and Indigenous people. We must stop him," Poilievre proclaimed. He latched onto Price's fame and public support to appeal to his own political base and get in a dig at the Prime Minister (whom Price also blames for wanting to take his hunting rifles away) at the same time.
    Not all athletes use their public platforms in ignorance. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem at an NFL game, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew the power his gesture would have to stoke a political fire, and he used it to encourage support for the mistreatment of Black people by police. He also knew he would likely pay a personal price, but he went there willingly.    


    Carey Price is a proud Indigenous man who enjoys hunting, just as his ancestors did and as is his right. He has quietly done much for children, particularly those who are Indigenous and underprivileged. His public legacy has been one of which to be proud. However, in this case he has chosen to take a stance without researching the facts. The problem with that is Price isn't you or I, who can mouth off on social media with the only consequence being a flood of insults in our comments.
    Price has a platform and influence, and when he speaks up, people listen. Many of them will choose to believe what he says without doing their own research just because a famous person told them it's true. That has real-world political and social consequences.
    His decision to speak on this issue, and the timing of his comments, has forced the Canadiens into damage control.
    "On Saturday, Carey Price posted a statement in support of the CCFR's opposition to proposed federal gun control legislation. As previously stated, Carey was unaware of the CCFR's recent marketing campaign nor was he aware of the unfortunate timing of his statement," the Canadiens said in a statement Monday. "The Montreal Canadiens wish to express their sincere apology to any and all who have been offended or upset by the discourse that has arisen over this matter in recent days."
    The team has also made a donation to the "Week of the White Rose Campaign," which sponsors young women who want to study engineering, in memory of the victims of Dec.6, 1989.
    Price continues to stand with the CCFR's misinformation that his hunting guns could be banned.


    Carey Price is learning now, as many athletes have before him, his words have consequences far beyond sports. In his comments, he's managed to hurt and insult people who mark this solemn occasion, embarrass his team and stoke a political fire already fueled by rhetoric and fabrication. He's allowed himself to be used by forces who have no interest in him aside from the fact that his opinion carries weight, and it's useful to their cause.
    At least, one would hope he's learned that lesson, especially this week, and uses his voice more wisely next time. It also wouldn't hurt him to learn a little bit about one of the seismic events shaping the recent history of the city that gave his voice power in the first place.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Takes One to Know One

                                            photo credit: NHL.com

    Once upon a time, NHL teams had a manager and a coach. Sometimes, the manager was the coach and sometimes the coach was also a player. Not so anymore. Today's NHL teams have front offices to rival the playing roster. 
    The Canadiens, for example, have an executive vice president, a GM, an assistant GM, a director of player personnel, a director of amateur scouting and a special advisor to hockey operations. Behind the bench, there's the coach, three assistant coaches, a goalie coach and a pair of video coaches. There are four people in player development, three in analytics and another two in hockey development. That's 22 people, and it's not even counting the medical, training, equipment, communications and scouting staffs. It's a lot.
    So, a fan might be forgiven for wondering what on earth all these people actually do all day.
    Back in February, the Canadiens announced they were bringing in Vincent Lecavalier as a "special advisor." 
    Now, going on a year later, you might ask what is Vinny doing in Montreal, aside from being the head coach's good buddy?
    Well, first of all, he's not actually in Montreal. He lives in Tampa. However, he was brought on board for a very special reason. 

    June 27, 1998 was a beautiful summer day in Buffalo, New York. The sun was shining, a gentle breeze wafted in from the southwest and the NHL draft was set to go at the Marine Midland Arena. 
    Just two months past his eighteenth birthday and a stellar career as a junior in the QMJHL, centreman Vincent Lecavalier, standing an impressive 6'4", was the undisputed number-one prospect at that draft. After some nifty trade action involving the Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks, the Tampa Bay Lightning had secured the first pick. Sure enough, when new owner Art Williams took the stage, Vinny was his choice.

                                                     photo credit: NHL.com

    "The new Tampa Bay Lightning is very proud and very excited to take back to our fans in Tampa Bay, the number-one amateur hockey player in the world, the number-one pick in the entire NHL draft, Vincent Lecavalier," Williams announced.
    The kid was thrilled.
    "When I got in the rink today, I had butterflies in my stomach," Lecavalier said at the time. "I'm really relieved everything's over and I got picked number one. So I'm very, very happy." 
    The day after the draft, the pressure to not only make the NHL, but to be, as Williams boasted "the Michael Jordan of hockey" began. As the team's franchise player for 14 years, that pressure never let up.
    At 19, he was captain of the Lightning. By 20, he'd been stripped of the "C" because the team decided he wasn't mature enough. He had a difficult relationship with coach John Tortorella and high expectations from fans and media. While he never achieved "Michael Jordan" status, he scored 52 goals in a season, won the Stanley Cup, played Jean Beliveau in a movie, suited up for more than a thousand games with Tampa, earned a personal fortune and had his number retired by the team that drafted him.
    He was also the frequent subject of trade rumours sending him to Montreal, where he had little interest in playing, knowing the pressure of being a homegrown superstar would likely crush him.
    So, the man knows a lot about what it means to be the first-overall pick in the NHL draft and what can happen afterwards.


    When Lecavalier was hired, the Canadiens weren't guaranteed the first pick in the draft, but they were second-last in the NHL, one point ahead of Arizona. It was looking pretty likely they'd at least be in the running. At the draft lottery in May, they locked up the top spot, and then had to decide which player would best fulfill his promise. In the end, they took big, strong Juraj Slafkovsky, and Lecavalier's real work began...number one to number one.

    "I'm working with Slafkovsky. It's his first year and we're trying to help him as much as we can. I cut his clips and then we work with the skills coach to try and help him in his process. Right now that's what I'm doing," he says.
    "He's 18. I remember when I was 18, I didn't have a clue. I'm not saying he doesn't, but I'm saying you have to learn through experience. I try to bring what I can, trying to bring out the best in him."
    "I watch him play every game," he continues. "He's way bigger than me. He's like 240. That's crazy. He's a big, big boy. But it's the knowledge. For me, from 18 to 30, you gain a lot of knowledge. The person who had the most knowledge for me was Marty St.Louis. When I started playing with Marty, I started getting better. You learn from the best minds, and Marty I think is the best player I've ever played with in terms of hockey IQ. You learn from different people, and that's what we're trying to do with Slafkovsky."
    Lecavalier says he's pleased with Slafkovsky's work ethic and his quickness to learn. Right now the Slovakian teenager is his top priority, but the Canadiens have two more first-round choices coming up in 2023. While they're closer to the playoffs than the draft lottery at the season's quarter mark, the former first-overall on staff is preparing to help the team make the most of those draft picks.
    "In January, I'll still focus on Slafkovsky, but I'll watch a lot of the top forty or fifty draft players for 2023, make sure I know all of them," he says. "First two rounds, and so when we get to the draft we have all the meetings and we can make decisions about players."
    And when those future Habs arrive in Montreal, they'll have the advantage of learning from somebody who's literally been there before.


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Boss


    On a gorgeous fall evening in October, the usual crowd gathered in the Legion hall in tiny Gander, Newfoundland. A few down-on-their luck guys were playing video slots. A pair of couples sat drinking local beer at a wobbly table under bright, fluorescent lights. A trio of people chatted with the bored-looking bartender, while one guy played pool against himself. Otherwise, the place was quiet and empty.
    Heads turned when the door opened and strangers...a whole gang of them...strolled in. They were mostly young men; tall, fit, loud and energetic. Obviously, they were some sort of team.
    It turned out the visitors were the Montreal Canadiens training and equipment staff, in town with the team for a Kraft Hockeyville exhibition game against the Ottawa Senators. On the night before the game, they were out for some fun and to be screeched in.
    A screech-in is a silly game for tourists in Newfoundland, in which you become an honorary citizen by reciting a local phrase, drinking a shot of dark rum Screech and kissing a codfish, hosted by a local emcee.
    It wasn't a big deal to the regulars at the Legion. Screech-ins happen there fairly often over the summer, so nobody really paid much attention. Or, they didn't until another group arrived shortly behind the first. This time, their eyes followed one of the newcomers, knowing they'd seen him somewhere before.
    Marty St.Louis, casual in dark jeans, navy sweater and white-collared shirt, blended in with the rest of the crowd. He wasn't quite sure what he was doing there; only that the training guys said they were going and he decided to tag along. The rest of the coaching staff came with him.
    That was unusual. A couple of the trainers said most of the time on the road the coaches keep to themselves. Mixing in with the trainers and equipment guys normally doesn't happen, and it signaled to them the start of a different kind of team reality.
    The screech-in proceeded with the jokes, the recitation of the Newfoundland phrases, the rum and the codfish. Although a bit bemused, St.Louis played along in the spirit of the thing. He willingly drank the rot-gut rum and kissed the frozen fish, with a big smile. As more than one attendee explained, "That's just Marty."


    A few years ago, Forbes magazine published an article called 7 Things That Make Great Bosses Unforgettable. The first item on the list: great bosses are passionate.
    Vincent Lecavalier played in Tampa for twelve years with St.Louis, and counts him as a friend and mentor.
    "That's probably one of his biggest things," he says. "If you talk about Marty St.Louis, that's what it is. Passion. Determination. That's something he brought as a player and obviously as a coach now. He loves what he does. He's hockey. That's his life. I loved hockey. I loved a lot of things about hockey. But to be a coach, to do that game in and game out, it takes a special kind of person."
    Mike Gilligan agrees. St.Louis joined his University of Vermont squad in 1993, and immediately impressed the coach.
    "I have to give him the highest ranks in passion," he says. "When he was a younger player in college, he was almost too passionate and losses hurt him so. He expected a lot from himself. He enjoyed the game so much, he didn't want to play poorly or have his teammates play poorly. He didn't like it if he thought they weren't respecting the sport and respecting every minute they had to enjoy that sport. He was the heart and soul of my teams for four years. Passion is one of his great traits."
    Number two on the Forbes list of excellent boss traits is "standing in front of the bus." In other words, the opposite of throwing players under the bus when things aren't going well. Gilligan says St.Louis ticks that box as well.
    "When he was hired up there last year, I said to myself, one thing he won't do is embarrass his players," he remembers. "He'll back them up, and he'll do one on ones with them if he has anything serious to say. He won't make a spectacle or coach through the media. He'll be right up front with these guys. He's not gonna blame anybody else except himself if things go wrong. He takes the hits. He'll own everything."
    Third on the Forbes list: "They play chess, not checkers." That is to say, they recognize not all pieces of their teams are interchangeable. They each have a specific set of traits that can be applied in a situation, and there are situations when a particular team member cannot be used.
    "Marty has been in every situation," says Lecavalier. "He's been a fourth liner, he's been an American Leaguer, he's been everything. He relates to everybody because he's been through it all. He can relate to a fourth liner. He can related to that guy who's gonna be up and down all year. He can relate to the top player. The only thing he can't relate to is probably the goalie."
    "That's what makes him understand that everybody does need a role on a team and how important everybody is on a team.  Even if you're playing eight or nine minutes, he'll get the best eight or nine minutes for that guy. I think he really understands that."
    Next, a great boss is who he is all the time, with no pretense, false promises or hidden agendas.
    "He's as serious in life as he is in hockey," Gilligan explains. "He expects a lot from the people around him, but he expects more from himself. He doesn't change. He hasn't changed one bit since I've met him. He doesn't forget anybody. With all his successes, his best friends are some of the guys he grew up with along the way. Not big shot type players, but just regular friends. He's as nice to them as he is to everyone else."
    Number five on the Forbes list is "a great boss is a port in a storm." When everything is going to crap, he's the one who calms everyone down and remains cool under pressure.
    "I think he's pretty calm," Lecavalier says. "I think he was like that as a player. That's probably very hard to do as a coach because you're basically looked at as either a winner or a loser. A lot of coaches can't take the losing."
    "I think Marty's done a really good job in believing in the process of getting better. Sometimes you don't always get the results, but you know that's gonna come.  So I think as a coach, it's good to be patient if your team is trending in the right direction and he's doing that."
    According to the list, an excellent boss is also human, not afraid of emotion or embarrassed to show his own. He's also warm and relates to his people as people before workers
    "He's very easy to talk to," Lecavalier shares. "He was a guy who wasn't afraid to go and talk to coaches, and that's what he's bringing. His door's always open. Not every coach does that. They say their door is open, but it's not really."
    "But he's a good communicator. He understands everybody has different needs and responds to different ways of coaching. I can just remember with me and John Tortorella, it was hard for me to go into his office. And Marty would say why won't you go in his office? You'll feel so much better after. You'll both feel better. He was always about communication, and he does that with his players."
     And finally, according to Forbes, a great boss is humble.
    "He doesn't brag on himself at all," Gilligan confirms. "As much as he's done, he doesn't talk about himself. He just goes on with his life and tries to help people around him. He just loves the sport and respects it so much. It's given him a career and it's been his lifelong dream."
    If St.Louis has all the qualities of a great boss, neither Gilligan nor Lecavalier is surprised.
    "I got in the league before him, but I was five years younger," says Lecavalier. "He really helped me on my mental game. He made sure I got better. He was a natural leader that brought the best out of me. He was almost like a player-coach type guy with not just the caring, but how to play the game. Little things on the ice that make you better. He was a big brother type of guy. A friend and a guy you could talk to."
    "He sees the game like he's in the third balcony. He's always had great hockey sense. Even when he played with me, he'd suggest things to do," Gilligan says.
    "I remember on his first penalty kill with us, he came off the ice and I said 'Hey Marty, when you get that puck, you get rid of it and throw it down the other end.' He looked at me and said 'I kind of see it as an offensive opportunity. There's fewer people out there to go around.' He was almost like a coach from day one for us."
    "He was a great hire. Some of the younger kids have rallied around him. They're really starting to grow as players right now. He's a good match for them. Some of them remember him as a player. It wasn't that long ago that he was doing the stuff they're trying to do right now."
    "He's got a great set of values. As good as he is as a hockey person, he's a hall of famer in life. He's quite a guy."

    Back in Gander, after the Canadiens crew were screeched in and shared a few laughs and beers, they headed out to get ready for the next day's game.
    At the door, they stopped and looked around. "Where's Marty?" they asked.
    Looking back, there he was.
    Quietly helping the bartender clear away the empties before he hit the road.