The president of the Neepawa Natives says the future of his hockey team is in jeopardy after a high-profile hazing incident.
Dave McIntosh said the incident, which has been widely reported, has taken its toll on him, his team and the whole community in western Manitoba.
"It's taken a piece of my life away. These guys are 18, 19 and 20[years old]. If they're anything at all like me, it's been hard for them to deal with," he said.
The parents of a 15-year-old player who came forward with hazing accusations told CBC News last week their son was forced to dance in the team's dressing room and drag around water bottles tied to his genitals.
Seven rookies in all were subjected to similar treatment, the parents claimed, adding that older players rated the younger ones on their ability to endure the pain.
The team has lost a sponsor, traded many players, and had an assistant coach resign in the fallout since the incident during the week of Sept. 26.
As well, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) suspended the head coach and 16 players, including the team captain and three assistant captains.
The Natives is a community-owned team, financially supported by many local businesses and the Town of Neepawa.
That support is now up in the air. Last Thursday, broadcaster CJ Radio announced it is suspending its coverage of the team for one year, meaning it will not carry the team's games, lotteries or other events during that period.
The national attention that has been focused on Neepawa has made people uncomfortable and McIntosh worries about the survival of the small-market team.
"The community as of late is starting to take a little bit of a hit, a negative hit, and it concerns me," he said.
And it's not letting up. The MJHL announced late last week it was reopening its investigation into the team.
CJ Radio has also called on the MJHL's board of governors to "revoke the franchise held by the Neepawa group."
Player to be traded
The player who first reported a case is going to be traded so that he can continue to play somewhere in the league, McIntosh said.
The boy's parents claim that after the incident became public, he was forced to apologize to his teammates and his coaches suggested that he take some time off from playing.
The boy has already missed nearly 10 games — more than anyone else, said his parents.
The assistant coach, Brad Biggers, received one of the harshest penalties from the MJHL, which suspended him for five games before he decided to step down.
Head coach Bryant Perrier was suspended for two games.
Biggers was suspended for a longer period for "not promptly reporting his knowledge of hazing activity among the players," the MHJL has stated in a release.
However, Biggers has denied he was in the room during the incident.
The boy's father welcomes the trade and said he's proud of his son for doing what was right. The father also said the boy has gotten a great deal of support.
Wayne Jacobsen, the play-by-play announcer for the Natives, said responsibility for incidents such as bullying or hazing falls on any team management, the league and even Hockey Canada to crack down and educate players.
But he also said it's naive to think hazing is a thing of the past.
"The fact of the matter is, there is continually going on rookie initiations," he said.