Manitoba hockey coach in hazing case resigns

A Manitoba junior hockey coach who has denied involvement in an alleged hazing incident has resigned from the team.

Neepawa Natives loses support from local radio network amid controversy

Sixteen players with the Neepawa Natives junior hockey team were suspended this week for their role in a hazing incident late last month. Head coach Bryant Perrier and Brad Biggers, who resigned as assistant coach on Thursday, were also suspended. (CBC)

A Manitoba junior hockey coach who has denied involvement in an alleged hazing incident has resigned from the team.

Brad Biggers, an assistant coach with the Neepawa Natives, confirmed to CBC News that he has stepped down from the team.

"Yes I did resign," Biggers said via text message late Thursday. "Its [sic] time for me to move on with a better opportunity."

Dave McIntosh, president of the Neepawa Natives, said the player who first reported a case is going to be traded.

The 15-year-old's father says he welcomes the trade and says he's proud of his son for doing what was right. The father says the boy has gotten a great deal of support, including a phone call from NHL great Sheldon Kennedy.

Earlier, Biggers said he believes he was made a scapegoat in the hazing incident, for which he and the team's head coach were suspended this week by the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Sixteen Natives players were also suspended for their role in the incident, including the team captain and three assistant captains. The incident took place on the week of Sept. 26, according to the league.

The parents of a 15-year-old player told CBC News on Wednesday that their son was forced to dance in the team's dressing room, then drag around water bottles that were tied to his genitals.

Seven rookies in all were subjected to similar treatment, the parents claimed, adding that players were rated by the older players.

'I didn't see anything'

The parents also alleged that Biggers was in the room during the incident, but Biggers denies that he was there.

"I can't be in the room to supervise them at all times," he said in an interview earlier Thursday. "I didn't see anything, and that's the truth."

The parents of a 15-year-old hockey player told CBC News on Wednesday that assistant coach Brad Biggers was present for the alleged hazing, a claim Biggers denies. (CBC)

Biggers received one of the harshest penalties from the MJHL, which suspended him for five games. 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 had stated in a release.

"I just feel that I am being used as the fall guy here," Biggers said.

"I did absolutely nothing wrong. I was not in the room for any of it. I did not see anything and I just feel they need somebody to blame, so they're going to blame a 21-year-old first-year coach in the league."

Biggers declined to comment further on the parents' allegations.

Station withdraws support

The Natives is a community-owned team, financially supported by many local businesses and the Town of Neepawa.

Some sponsors had told CBC News this week that they would not pull their support of the team as a result of the incident.

But on Thursday afternoon, area radio network CJ Radio announced that it is suspending its coverage of the Neepawa Natives for one year, meaning it will not cover the team's games, lotteries or other events during that period.

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In a letter to the MJHL, CJ Radio said it has informed its programming staff to remove all references to the team from its four stations, including CJ 97.1 FM in Neepawa.

"Given recent actions by the management in Neepawa to deal with the fallout of their hazing incident, we can no longer consider the Natives to be a benefit to Neepawa," the letter stated in part.

"Our listeners are demanding action not only from the Natives organization but from the league," the letter adds. "We refuse to let our reputation be tarnished by being associated with the Neepawa Natives organization."

CJ Radio's letter said it will reconsider the coverage suspension if the team apologizes to the 15-year-old player, fires or accepts the resignations of Perrier and Biggers and team president Dave McIntosh, and establishes a "career path for all affected rookie players."

The radio network called on the MJHL's board of governors to "revoke the franchise held by the Neepawa group."

Meanwhile, Eric Robinson, Manitoba's deputy premier and the minister responsible for sport, told reporters it may be time to look at making hazing a Criminal Code offence.

Tory Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen said he would be receptive to that idea.