Saskatoon

Sask. junior hockey coach had 'hit list' of opposition players, hockey mother tells parliamentary subcommittee

Carter Phair was forced to retire from junior hockey last season after suffering his fourth diagnosed concussion from an illegal hit in five months of play. His mother told the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Sports-Related Concussions in Canada that an opposing coach had a "hit list" of opposition players.

Mother of retired SJHL goalie alleges same team ended her son's season 2 years in a row

Carter Phair played goaltender with the Weyburn Red Wings. His mother testified at a parliamentary subcommittee that an opposition hockey coach had a "hit list". She alleges the same team ended her son's season with a knee to the head two seasons in a row. (Mike Stackhouse/SJHL/Weyburnredwings.ca)

A mother of a junior hockey player has testified at a parliamentary subcommittee that a coach of an opposing Saskatchewan team had a "hit list" of opposition players.

She also alleges the same team ended her son's season with a knee to the head two years in a row. 

Anne Phair vividly remembers the concern of medical staff when her son, Carter, suffered the concussion that forced his retirement from junior hockey.

Carter was a goalie for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Weyburn Red Wings and had just been named the league's top goaltender for the previous month.

In a game last fall, an opposing player collided with Carter in his crease, knocking him out of the game with a concussion.

Last week, Anne told the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Sports-Related Concussions in Canada that her son was hospitalized after that incident.

Anne Phair told the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Sports-Related Concussions in Canada that her son had to retire from junior hockey after the same team ended his season two years in a row. (Parliamentary Subcommittee on the Sports-Related Concussions in Canada)

'Hit him in the head'

"He was ambulanced to Saskatoon hospital for a CT scan to make sure he didn't have a brain bleed because of some worrisome symptoms," she testified.

The subcommittee, which is examining sports-related concussions in Canada, was also told the opposing coach had a "hit list."

"This time, two suspensions," she said. "Six games for the player, and three for the coach, who according to one of his former players, had a hit list of players upon whom he encouraged his team to take extra liberties."

She testified Carter was diagnosed with six concussions over three years, all while playing junior hockey, but she attributed the first two concussions to an improper goalie mask he had been wearing since the age of 14.

She said he was in his 18-year-old season before a trainer with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers looked at his mask and said Carter shouldn't have been wearing it past bantam hockey.

"When Carter received the correct helmet, he never again received a concussion from a puck to the head," she said.

However, she testified his concussion history made him a target.

"When Carter was cleared to play again, word was out," she said. "Hit him in the head, and he'll miss a couple weeks."

"That happened three times before the end of the year and opponents were suspended by the league for three, seven and eight games for separate incidents."

After the last incident, she testified it was almost four months before Carter could work out again. She said he required reading glasses as he had lost some of his vision. He also had headaches daily, he couldn't sleep and had poor concentration.

Despite this, she said he was "stubborn and determined" and talked his parents into letting him play again, before the final incident ended his junior career.

She said it was clear to her the suspensions weren't enough of a deterrent.

That one coach who had the hit list, it was clear — that team ran him twice. That team ended his season two times.- Anne Phair

"The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League handed out suspensions," she testified. "But it wasn't enough to change the behaviour, as Carter received four diagnosed concussions from illegal hits in five months of play despite the suspensions being handed out."

"Keep in mind, you don't get suspended for hitting a goalie in the mask with a puck," she told the subcommittee. "But you do get suspended for bodychecking his head into his post, recklessly bodychecking him after he deflects your shot to the corner or for skating full-speed from your own blueline and putting your knee into the side of his head after he's covered the puck."

She also testified it "seemed like it was part of the culture that they wanted to get the goalie."

"That one coach who had the hit list, it was clear — that team ran him twice," she said. "That team ended his season two times. I think coaches need to be held accountable."

Coach suspended after junior career-ending incident

SJHL president Bill Chow said "at the time, we thought we were handing out suspensions that were lengthy enough" — noting those suspensions exceeded the minimum prescribed in the league's rulebook.

"In most of those cases of suspensions, they were probably the longest suspensions that we had handed out over that period of time for any incident in Junior A hockey in Saskatchewan," he said.

Chow noted that in the incident that ended Carter's junior career, the coach was suspended — adding the league does sanction coaches and teams if "those actions continue to happen."

"And it seemed like there was reoccurring incidents," Chow said. "So obviously his behaviour had to be changed, or his thought process had to be changed, and so then therefore the suspension to the coach."

League president unaware of alleged 'hit list' 

Chow said he hadn't heard of an alleged "hit list" prior to Phair's testimony before the subcommittee.

He also said the league would "absolutely" investigate that type of allegation against a coach still in the league, but wouldn't be looking into this case.

"He's no longer in our league, so I have no control over his actions anymore," Chow said.

When asked by a subcommittee member what it would take for him to return to hockey, Carter said he "wouldn't want to get ran all the time" and that he would want a change to the crease rule.

"In the IIHF, the whistle is blown anytime someone on the opposing team enters the crease," he said. "And I think that would have gone a long way for me being able to play."

His mother testified a clinic in Burnaby has been able to alleviate almost all of Carter's concussion symptoms.

She said a specialist identified a spot on Carter's neck that wasn't healing, even when he had been cleared to play following concussion protocol.

She also said Carter has regained his eyesight, no longer complains of headaches, his grades in university have improved, he sleeps better and he has been able to resume most activities.

None of the Phairs' allegations have been tested in court. Parliamentary privilege protects her testimony.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.

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