Some hockey fans say excitement for world juniors comes with tough conversations

Some Nova Scotia hockey fans say their excitement for the world junior hockey championship is accompanied this year by tough conversations about Hockey Canada‘s handling of sexual assault allegations.

Halifax hockey dad Kyle Wagner says the scandals within Hockey Canada have sparked discussions in the dressing room of his eight-year-old son’s team ahead of this year’s world junior tournament hosted jointly by Halifax and Moncton, N.B.

“And I’m sure it’s going to continue to be a conversation for sure over the next few years,” he said in an interview Thursday while on route home from his son’s hockey tournament in Dartmouth, N.S.

The national hockey governing body has been mired in controversy for months after it was revealed in May that it settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by several members of the 2018 world junior team. Then in July, Halifax Regional Police began investigating allegations that members of the 2003 team sexually assaulted a woman and filmed the attack during that year’s tournament.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and no charges have been laid.

Hockey Canada executives in July revealed that they had paid out $8.9 million in sexual abuse settlements since 1989, excluding the 2018 deal. The organization elected a new board of directors Dec. 17 and is still searching for a new chief executive officer. The previous board resigned and president and CEO Scott Smith was ousted as a result of the controversies.

“I think it happened a little too late,” Wagner said of the recent changes within Hockey Canada leadership, “but when something drastic like that happens, I think you need to clean house and start fresh.”

Wagner said it’s a long-standing tradition for his family to watch the games beginning on Boxing Day, adding that his family is excited to cheer on team Canada together again this year. However, Wagner said that he and his family have talked about the controversy and the “horrible” things that have taken place within the hockey world.

“An eight-year-old is smart, because my son knows that there’s controversy this year in hockey, and while he doesn’t know a whole lot of the details, he knows that some things were done that were wrong and horrible,” he said.

It’s important that hockey families pay attention to these major issues and hold the national sport organization accountable, Wagner said, to “make sure something like this doesn’t happen again” and that allegations of sexual violence are properly investigated.

Lifelong hockey fan Maggie Archibald, who has tickets to two upcoming world juniors games at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, said in an interview Thursday that while she is concerned about the scandals, they won’t prevent her from supporting team Canada.

“I have some tickets to two games, so I’m really looking forward to it and I’m hoping to see Canada be successful despite the scandal that still lingers,” she said.

With the newly replaced Hockey Canada board, there’s a “very high expectation” that significant improvements will be made within the organization, Archibald said.

“I’m hoping this new board will change things and help make things right,” she said. “I think that would help change the negative opinion that I think a lot of people currently have with Hockey Canada.”

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage has said the board and CEO resignations were overdue. In an interview Thursday, he said that the “dramatic” leadership change has “cleared the way for the mayor of Moncton and myself to focus on the hockey and on the benefits that come to our two cities.”

Savage said the tournament is expected to bring somewhere “in the tens of millions” of dollars in revenue to the city, adding that he expects hotels and restaurants to be full during what would typically be a slow tourism season.

“I’m excited to be at some of the games. I’m excited to see Halifax and Moncton on national TV; I know both cities will shine,” he said.

“It’s been a tough period for Hockey Canada, but I think this is part of a new day for hockey.”

Thursday it was revealed that New Brunswick’s government included a “good conduct” clause in its funding contract with Hockey Canada for the tournament. The contract stipulates that during the event all of Hockey Canada’s representatives “must be of good character and must not indulge in unethical conduct.”

New Brunswick has committed $1.25 million to the event, but the province’s Regional Development Corporation’s contract says the government can “demand that all of the unused portion of the funding be reimbursed” if unethical or illegal conduct occurs.

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