Only in Canada? A political attack over hockey fights prompts apology

When the Ontario Liberals tried to discredit PC Leader Patrick Brown by calling into question the fighting record of one of his candidates, former NHL player Troy Crowder, it backfired and put the Liberals on defence. Crowder's opponent, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, said sorry for the "stunt."

Former NHL player Troy Crowder shocked that his fighting record would come up in his campaign

Former NHL player Troy Crowder, left, with Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, middle, and former NHL player Paul Coffey, right after a charity hockey game in Barrie, Ont., on Nov. 10, 2017. (Courtesy Troy Crowder)

Former NHL player Troy Crowder took a lot of hits during his hockey career, and now, as a candidate in Ontario's next provincial election, he's fending off political blows.

Last week, Crowder unexpectedly found himself the subject of a Liberal attack against Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown. The former right winger was put on defence, all over his record as a fighter on the ice more than two decades ago.

"At first I thought it was a hoax," Crowder said in a phone interview in between charity hockey games on Friday.

"I didn't think that my hockey career or who I fought or who I won against or didn't win against would be much of a concern. It was kind of a shock to me more than anything," said Crowder, who is the PC candidate in Sudbury. He will be trying to unseat Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault when Ontarians vote next June.

What happened might be considered one of the most stereotypical Canadian political squabbles of all time: a party uses a hockey fight to attack their opponent and ends up apologizing for it.

The governing Liberals, who are trailing the PCs in the polls, have a website and social media accounts called "Facts Still Matter in Ontario," which they use to regularly accuse Brown of spreading misinformation.

Last Wednesday, they sent out an email blast called "Who Won The Fight?" and it said Brown "claimed" in a speech the day before that in Crowder's rookie year he "beat up" Bob Probert, who was one of the NHL's toughest fighters.

Crowder defends fighting record

The "fact," according to the Liberals, was that "Troy Crowder did not fight Bob Probert in his rookie year. It's also debatable who won when they actually did fight."

The YouTube link below the statement shows a fight between Crowder, playing for the New Jersey Devils at the time, and Probert in 1990.

It's hard to see how there is any debate about who won that fight. Crowder pulls Probert's jersey over his face and lands one punch after another before the referees break them apart.
Troy Crowder, known as a tough fighter in his NHL days in the 1990s, is running in the next election in his hometown of Sudbury. (Roger Corriveau/CBC)

The commentators call it a "major moral victory for the New Jersey Devils" and say "Probert took the worst of that one" as he skates off the ice with a bloody face.

The second problem with the Liberals' fact check was that it was wrong. Crowder said he knows every time he fought Probert.

"They are memorable occasions in my mind," he said.

Crowder issued a statement that said it's disappointing the Liberals were wasting time talking about his hockey career 27 years ago instead of hydro rates, but nonetheless, he would set the record straight.

"Yes, I fought Bob Probert three times in my rookie season," Crowder wrote. He went on to say how he was a fighter then, and he's a fighter now — for the people in his community.

Liberals slammed as 'petty'

"Today, I will stand up for my teammates, the people of Sudbury … I'll be a fighter for us day in and day out as your representative to the provincial parliament."

There is no shortage of puns for critics to use when describing the attempt to discredit Brown via Crowder's hockey record. They could call it offside, for example, or a cheap shot.

"Game misconduct penalty awarded to the Wynne Liberals for unsportsmanlike conduct," Brown spokesman Nick Bergamini wrote on Twitter.
A screenshot of the website run by Ontario's Liberal party called Facts Still Matter in Ontario. It routinely attacks PC Leader Patrick Brown and accuses him of making 'false claims' and 'fibs.' (

The Liberals certainly didn't score with this one. The incident serves as an example of how careful political parties need to be in attacking each other and the risks they take in doing so, because sometimes, it can fail miserably and do more harm than good.

"They are trying to put doubts towards our party and it's kind of funny that they didn't really research much before they tried to make this an issue on our credibility and it backfired on them," said Crowder.

The episode generated local media coverage and gave the PCs the opportunity to showcase one of their higher profile candidates.

It allowed Crowder to change the narrative and tout himself as someone with the work ethic and team player attitude that will serve constituents well as he defends their interests.

It opened the Liberals up to embarrassment and attack, with critics on Twitter calling them "petty" and "pathetic."

Thibeault himself admitted it was a "silly stunt" and apologized to his opponent on Twitter for it. That generated even more attention and headlines in local media.

Political strategist and commentator Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, said whoever wrote the Crowder line was likely a well-meaning researcher who thought they had a winner. They should have thought twice, he suggested.

"An old rule in politics is if something appears to be too clever by half it probably is," Powers said.

"If you are putting out releases under the brand 'Facts Still Matter' you probably should get the 'facts' right. Getting them wrong hurts more than two to the face from Bob Probert in any fight — rookie season or not," he said.

Again, no shortage of sports analogies here: the Liberals and PCs are getting set to face off in the election and both parties need to be cautious in their messaging with voters so they don't make unforced errors that put them in the public opinion penalty box.

About the Author

Meagan Fitzpatrick


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitzpatrick_m