New Brunswick

Resignations at Hockey Canada welcomed in N.B. as good first step

Some hockey watchers are applauding the departure of senior leaders at Hockey Canada, but say it’s still only the beginning of the change needed.

CEO and entire board resigned Tuesday in wake of sexual abuse payout scandal

Hockey Canada president and chief executive officer Scott Smith resigned on Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Some hockey watchers are applauding the departure of senior leaders at Hockey Canada, but say it's still only the beginning of the change needed.

CEO Scott Smith and the entire board of directors stepped down Tuesday, amid a growing controversy surrounding the use of fees paid by all players to compensate victims of sexual assault by groups of junior men players.

There are important questions still to be answered, said Craig Eagles, a hockey analyst and scout in Moncton, echoing what he'd heard from Brock McGillis, one of the first openly gay professional hockey players.

"Who will be appointed to the new board? Who will become the next CEO? Are they going to do all the right things now?"

Craig Eagles, a Moncton-based scout and hockey analyst, says what happened at Hockey Canada 'was wrong on so many levels,' and the challenge now is what the new leadership does to make sure it doesn't happen again. (Daniel St. Louis)

There are a lot of people counting on them to get it right, said Eagles.

"This can't happen again."

"What happened was wrong on so many levels and Hockey Canada covering that didn't help at all."

Even the fees of members of the UNB women's team went towards payouts to victims, noted coach Sarah Hilworth.

"It is disappointing to know that things like that are happening."

Hilworth said she thinks the incidents that have come to light are probably only "the tip of the iceberg."

Kristi Allain studies hockey culture at St. Thomas University. (Submitted by Kristi Allain)

People have begun to lose trust in Hockey Canada's direction on things such as coach education and player development, she said.

All kinds of changes should be on the table, said Kristi Allain, a St. Thomas University sociologist who studies hockey culture and a Canada Research Chair in physical culture and social life.

That includes levels of competitiveness, gender separation, how the game is played and who's running the teams, the leagues and the agencies.

"It's not just a Hockey Canada problem," she said.

Provincial bodies and minor hockey need "creative solutions" and a "major overhaul."

The hockey establishment — which Allain said includes multiple generations of players, coaches, managers and directors — needs to "step aside and make room for people with new ideas, new understandings of hockey and new ways of doing things."

Sarah Hilworth, the coach of the women's hockey team at UNB, notes that the fees paid by her players would have gone towards payouts for sexual assault cases. (UNB)

Hockey needs people who've been traditionally shut out, she said, and whose sport systems are less flawed and less problematic, "to come forward to start strategizing ways to change the system."

Eagles agreed it will take a long time to rebuild.

"Hockey Canada was a beacon for the game for players in this country and in the world and unfortunately, they've lost that trust." 

What he's been hearing from parents and families at the grassroots level is "a lot of confusion" and "a lot of anger."

Eagles hopes people don't lose sight of the victims and what happened to set all this off.

He's troubled by the level of resistance that was shown to change.

"it just seemed like at times they were trying to protect the brand instead of doing the right thing."

It seemed like people were trying to "stick handle around the situation," he said.

Closed community?

Another major sponsor, Bauer,  withdrew its support Tuesday, he noted, about a half-hour before the resignations were announced.

Men's and boys' elite hockey culture operates as a closed community, said Allain, and seems to be out of touch with the social change Canadians want.

In hockey, there's been a "constant barrage of incredibly problematic behaviour," Allain said, citing the examples of Akim Aliu, who experienced racism as a player in the CHL, the Montreal Canadiens, who signed an athlete who'd been convicted of sexual violence, and a player from the Tampa Bay Lightning who's been recently accused of sexual violence.

She also referred to Graham James, a former junior hockey coach who sexually abused players.

"I would have thought the Graham James affair would have been enough to push us here," she said, "but it clearly wasn't."

Stories about sexual violence against women and player to player have been "seeping out" for decades, said Allain. 

"What's interesting now," she said, "is that we've reached a critical moment where we are hearing these stories, and we're no longer willing to say that these are the actions of a few bad actors."

"This is actually the problem of an incredibly flawed culture — a culture that is shut off from everybody else, a culture that breeds a kind of secrecy that promotes a win-at-all-costs attitude, that protects its players over the rest of society."

Allain isn't wrong about that, said Eagles. Although he thinks there are positive changes already taking place in the sport and good people entrenched in it.

"There's so many organizations that are doing good things within the game," he said, making "meaningful, powerful change and inspiring young aspiring players."

"I was always brought up and coached by my coach and mentor, the late great Dale Turner, and my parents, obviously, and my brother, to leave the game in a better place. I think right now we're seeing a lot of people wanting to strive for that and hopefully we'll get there."


Jennifer Sweet has been telling the stories of New Brunswickers for over 20 years. She is originally from Bathurst, got her journalism degree from Carleton University and is based in Fredericton. She can be reached at 451-4176 or