The parents of a 16-year-old Ontario hockey player who was repeatedly punched in the face and head by another player are going public with their video evidence — because they want the aggressor held accountable.
"I felt, right from seeing it happen, my son has been assaulted," said Julie Major, from Woodstock, who records all of her son's games.
"I’ve been watching hockey for 40 some years and I’ve never seen anything quite like this," said Wes Major. "I expected a long term suspension."
The Majors are longtime hockey parents who say their views of the game have changed entirely since their son was hurt.
Part of hockey?
"If this is part of hockey then we don’t want to be part of it," said Wes. "I think that attitudes have to change."
Nick plays major midget 'A' hockey in Woodstock. In January, his team was winning 7-2 against the Brantford 99ers. The Majors said tempers were high. The Brantford team had received several misconduct penalties and two of its players had been ejected.
"We could see things escalate," said Julie.
Near the end of the third period, Nick skated toward the opposing net. When the whistle blew, he stopped in front — spraying the opposing team’s goalie with ice.
It was seen as what's called 'snowing the goalie.' In apparent retaliation, a Brantford player cross checked him from behind. Other players crowded the net and fights broke out.
Submit your story ideas:
- Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC TV, radio and the web.
- We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.
- We want to hear from people across the country with stories they want to make public.
It's what happened next that that his father said was "sickening" to watch.
With Nick down on the ice, the same player who checked him then grabbed him, pulled his helmet off, and punched him relentlessly in the head — at least 10 times — before the linesman was able to pull him off.
"It happened so fast. There’s almost a sense of disbelief at what you are seeing," said Wes, who thinks Nick was "brutally beaten".
"I’m not saying my son is perfect. I am saying this was extreme and very violent," said his wife.
Injured boy didn't fight
Both boys were suspended — for fighting — Nick for two games and the other boy for four, because it was his second fight of the season.
However, his mother's video shows Nick didn’t fight back. He took the blows, then got up and skated to the bench. He suffered a broken nose, concussion, bruises and cuts.
His parents and team manager said taunts and insults from the other team continued even as Nick was being taken to hospital.
"We had players in the parking lot yelling obscenities at our players and wanting to fight — and shockingly their parents were with them when they were behaving like this," said Wes.
"I believe there would have been a very different outcome if the Brantford coaches would have had control of their bench," said team manager Maria Velda, in a letter to Alliance Hockey, the league which oversees 20 minor hockey associations, including Brantford and Woodstock.
Go Public asked to speak to the Brantford coach Tom Jackson about this, but didn’t hear back.
The day after the incident, the Majors took their video to the league, and to the Woodstock police. The parents said they were taken aback when police officers and hockey officials seemed to view the incident as part of hockey.
"Everyone has an opinion on this. And more so in the favour of that 'it’s just part of the game'," said Julie. "The [police] officer that called me [recently] told me that he was going to wrap things up soon and the injuries that my son suffered are common to the sport."
After seeing the video, the league cancelled Nick’s suspension but it didn’t take any further action against the other boy. During his first game back on the ice — against the Woodstock team — the boy was penalized for checking to the head.
"At that point I felt like saying 'I told you so'," said Wes. "By not doing anything, by not having any supplementary discipline, it sent a message that this is acceptable."
The league then suspended him indefinitely and held a disciplinary hearing in early February. It lifted that suspension, though, after the hearing, because the boy showed remorse.
"Our committee after interviewing the boy and the family decided that he should continue to play," said Alliance Hockey’s executive director Tony Martindale.
"They felt that given the circumstances and some of the remorse...that had hit home that he had done the wrong thing."
League admits mistakes
Martindale said he does not think what happened to Nick Major is part of the game.
"This type of conduct is unacceptable," said Martindale. "When I grew up, it was unfortunately a lot about intimidation. That’s the culture that we have to change, because that culture leads to incidents that we are talking about now. We have to eliminate that old school mentality."
He said the ‘instigator’ should have been given a harsher penalty and should have been expected to apologize to Nick.
"There’s mistakes made all the way along here. Right from the start of the incident right through," said Martindale, adding the Brantford coach faced no consequences.
However, he said he would not like to see criminal charges laid.
Five months after the incident – and despite having video evidence - Woodstock police said they are still investigating.
"There were two teams involved that we have to interview and several spectators we are attempting to locate so that does take time," said Staff Sgt. Marci Shelton.
Assault charges in hockey are on the rise. Hockey Canada estimates three to five charges are laid every year now, in minor hockey.
A Victoria lawyer, who successfully defended an adult minor hockey player charged in 2008, watched the Majors' video and said he does think what happened to Nick is just part of the game.
"You know I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary," said Jordan Watt. "That’s typically what happens in hockey games when something like that [snowing the goalie] happens to a goaltender."
He doesn't think charges are warranted and said young people should not face the prospect of a criminal record for playing hockey.
"When you sign up when you participate in sports specifically contact sports there is an implied consent ... you are agreeing to be involved in some kind of contact or some type of situation that we saw in this video."
The Majors said their son has recovered and wants to move on — and continue playing the game he loves — but they still believe charges should be laid.
"He’d rather put it behind him and for us to probably drop it but...we’re trying to let him know that this is an important issue and it is worth pursuing so that perhaps opinions do change," said Wes.
"It feels like it’s inconvenient [for authorities] to make it right — that’s what it seems like," said Julie. "This isn’t an inconvenience. Kids are getting hurt."
Document: Letter from the Woodstock hockey team manager about the incident.