Former player details alleged sexual assault by junior hockey coach Bernie Lynch
'I said, "No." And he said, "Do what you're told,''' complainant in 1988 case tells CBC News
It was the kind of offer a 17-year-old with big-league hockey ambitions didn't feel he could turn down: A chance to be an instructor at the Regina Pats' summer hockey school and a free place to stay with the junior team's new assistant coach.
So on a hot Sunday in August 1988, the teen, himself a Pats prospect, arrived at Bernie Lynch's apartment. He said he recalls being immediately concerned about the setup — there was only one bed. Also troubling, he said, were the 34-year-old coach's efforts to ply him with alcohol and the conversation Lynch tried to start about masturbation.
"I wasn't a drinker at all. I told him that," said the former player, now 50, who sat down with CBC News this week to tell his story. "Later that night was when the sexual assault took place."
On May 1, Lynch, a veteran junior hockey coach with more than 40 years' experience behind the bench, turned himself in to police in Devon, Alta., and was charged with sexual assault and assault. Following his transfer to Regina, the now 66-year-old was released on bail on Wednesday. His next appearance is scheduled for June 2 in Saskatchewan provincial court in Regina.
The allegations have not been tested in court. And Lynch has yet to enter a plea.
The coach did not respond to a request for comment, but in the past, he has told CBC News that he is "shocked" by the allegations of verbal and physical abuse and use of sexually charged language that have surfaced against him in recent months, and has described them as being part of a "smear campaign."
Remembers locking bathroom door
In his exclusive interview with CBC News, the complainant recounted his version of the events on that summer night almost 33 years ago and the toll he says they have taken on his life. CBC News is not naming him, as he was a minor at the time.
He said the beers he drank that night hit him hard. He thought about how people sobered up on TV shows, and with no coffee to drink, he opted for a shower. He said he remembers locking the bathroom door.
"The next thing I knew, he came in there and got in the shower. And that's where the assault took place. I said, 'No.' And he said, 'Do what you're told.'"
Afterward, he said, he turned down an invitation to share Lynch's bed, opting for the couch. Shocked and ashamed, he spent a sleepless night trying to process what had happened, he said.
The next day, he worked at the hockey school but remembers little of what happened. That night, staff and students stayed at a local hotel. He found himself sharing a room with Lynch, who hinted about another shower, he said, then pouted when his offer was refused.
The player wanted to leave but feared there would be consequences for his hockey career. "I just had to get through it and get home," he said.
'My mom came over crying'
People who knew him sensed that something had changed, he said, but for weeks, he was too embarrassed to explain. He first shared his secret with his girlfriend. She was the one who told his parents.
"When I walked in the door, my mom came over crying," he recalled. "My dad wanted to drive to Regina, and I begged him not to. I begged them not to say anything.
"I just said, 'It'll ruin me.'"
His parents eventually agreed to respect his wishes.
WATCH | Former player says he was ashamed, embarassed after alleged abuse:
When he returned to hockey in the fall, he played well, but struggled off the ice. That season, he was called up to the Western Hockey League by another team. He ended up playing against the Pats, who had by then promoted Lynch to head coach. Throughout the game, the teen was hounded by one of the Pats players, hacked and cross-checked at every turn.
Later, they would become teammates. The player apologized, telling him that Lynch had ordered the attacks. The teen shared the reason why he believed Lynch was targeting him.
The former Pats player confirmed this account to CBC News, on the understanding that his identity not be published.
Wasn't ready to tell police
The teen confided in some of his coaches and teammates — giving them mostly an abridged, Coles Notes version of the story, without all the graphic details, he said. Still, he wasn't ready to tell the police.
"I never even considered it back then," he said. "I just didn't want my name out there. I didn't want my face out there. I didn't understand. I didn't know how it would all go."
WATCH | Taunted by other players about Lynch, complainant says:
(WARNING: This video contains offensive language)
Lynch was fired at the end of the 1988-89 season after the team turned in a dismal 17-31-3 record under his direction. The Pats and the WHL later learned of the allegations against Lynch and conducted their own internal investigation during the 1989-90 season. The player was interviewed, but with Lynch out of the league, no further action was taken.
The police first contacted him in 1994. And then again in 1997, when the RCMP and Regina Police Service launched parallel investigations into allegations about Lynch's conduct with young players.
Still fighting to work his way up the ladder as a minor-league pro, the player was fearful of the consequences of pressing charges. But he said he did share a message with investigators.
"I said there was an incident. And I remember saying, 'I cannot stress enough that he should not be coaching kids,'" he said. "And that's where it was kind of left."
The decision to come forward
For a time, Lynch was removed from coaching — suspended by Hockey Regina as a result of the police investigations — even though no charges were laid. (Lynch later brought a civil action against the hockey organization and was eventually reinstated.)
The player got married and started his own family. He lost track of Lynch. Although he said he never shook the effects of that night in Regina.
It wasn't until this past March, when he read a CBC News investigation about Lynch's suspension by the junior A Fort Frances Lakers in northwestern Ontario for sending dozens of inappropriate texts and emails to a player, that he learned the coach was still working with young players.
"I couldn't believe he was coaching. I didn't know," he said. "I saw the first article, and I showed my wife, and she said, 'You need to do something.'"
WATCH | Sexual assault complainant speaks out against junior hockey coach:
A second CBC News investigation into concerns raised by players and parents in Edson, Alta., about Lynch's behaviour during two seasons behind the bench for the junior A Aeros spurred him to reach out to Hockey Canada, and then to the Regina police.
"I was proud of those kids that had spoken up, the billets and parents who had spoken up," he said. "But I felt that I needed to take the next step. [To] do that for them and do it for the 17-year-old version of myself that I've been carrying around all these years."
Brian Pfefferle is a Saskatoon criminal lawyer whom Hockey Canada has hired to represent the player's interests and guide him through the process. He said the public shouldn't be surprised that it has taken so long for his client to come forward.
"We in the justice system understand that the delay in bringing forward an allegation of sexual abuse is often directly related to the manner in which the sexual offences can take place in the first place, and that is in silence and in private," said Pfefferle.
"And oftentimes, the complainants are targeted for a specific set of circumstances — whether they're young, whether they're poor, whether they have some sort of aspect to their personality that makes them vulnerable. That vulnerability is what makes them exploited."
Reclaiming the game
The player said he hopes his decision to come forward might help others who have played for Lynch over the years share their own experiences.
He said his choice to speak out is also helping him finally reclaim hockey for himself.
"I still love the game. I still love to play. He took that from me for a few years, but he's not taking it from me anymore."
Jonathon Gatehouse can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reached via the CBC's digitally encrypted Securedrop system at https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/