Water polo player suspended for role in Vancouver riot

A Canadian water polo player has been banned from the national team for two years for his role in the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver.
Nathan Kotylak was identified as a person who helped set a Vancouver police cruiser alight during the Stanley Cup riot in June. (Vancouver Police Department)

A Canadian water polo player who was shown in some notorious images from the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot has been banned from the national team for two years.   

Nathan Kotylak was handed the suspension by Water Polo Canada's discipline panel, which means his Olympic dreams for 2012 are officially dashed.   

The 18-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C., apologized in June after social media sites posted pictures showing the teen stuffing a rag into the gas tank of a police car during the post-Stanley Cup riot on June 15th.   

The ban prevents Kotylak from representing Canada on any national team until June of 2013, and he cannot receive any Sport Canada funding for two years.   

The panel described Kotylak's actions as "very serious" in a written decision released Monday night.   

The ruling followed a full-day hearing last Friday in Vancouver.   

"The message is, you're an athlete and you're representing Canada all the time, whether you're on the field of play or you're out at a restaurant or in the general public," said Ahmed El-Awadi, Executive Director of Water Polo Canada.   

"In our view, Nathan's actions on June 15 were a clear violation of the Water Polo Canada code of conduct."   

El-Awadi said Kotylak's lawyers received the ruling late Monday and offered no immediate reaction.   

Neither Kotylak nor his lawyers could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Olympic Gold Medal Rower Adam Kreek, who argued against a permanent ban when Kotylak was originally named as a riot participant, applauded the decision as fair. 

"Nathan Kotylak's sentence will create a challenge for him but it's certainly not insurmountable," Kreek told CBC News Tuesday. "If he has the skill and if Kotylak has the talents, he will become an athlete who can compete for Canada."

El-Awadi said Kotylak is in the United States playing for a junior college that is outside Water Polo Canada's jurisdiction.   

El-Awadi said he can't speculate on what motivated the young athlete, described in the ruling as "a model junior citizen" before the night of the riot.   

He referred reporters to a section of the ruling that makes reference to a psychological assessment that was conducted on Kotylak.   

The assessment is not being made public, but there is a brief summary of it in the ruling.   

Dr. Robert Ley, a clinical forensic psychologist with experience dealing with athletes, conducted a series of tests on the young man, the ruling states.   

"He concludes that anyone who knew the athlete before the events of June 15 would have been shocked by his participation," says the nine-page ruling.

Mob mentality

"The best explanation for the athlete's behaviour is that when other mayhem participants were being cheered by the crowd for their anti-social behaviour he too sought the crowd's approval by carrying out the acts he did."   

Kotylak was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the ruling says.   

Kotylak will not be allowed to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics. (CBC)
Kotylak went with school friends to downtown Vancouver to watch the final Stanley Cup game on large screens. In the final minutes of the loss by the Vancouver Canucks, a car was flipped over and the riot had begun.   

"Like a moth attracted to a light, the athlete pushed his way to the front of the crowd to view what was happening," the ruling says.   

Kotylak lost contact with his schoolmates, and he admitted to receiving a call from his family "before he participated in any events telling him to get out of the downtown area."   

The ruling says he tried to get to a skytrain station but his way was blocked by police.   

"It appears that in being turned back into the crowd he became swept up in the emotion of the crowd and the mayhem that ensued. He participated. He is at a loss to explain what he was thinking."   

Kotylak chose not to attend his high school convocation this past spring. He apologized to his teachers and peers saying his actions were not a representation of who he wants to be.   

He also urged others involved in the riot to take responsibility for their actions, and he apologized to the Vancouver Canucks, the city and the police.   

Lawyer Bart Findlay, who represents Kotylak, told The Canadian Press  in a June interview that the teenager's decision to speak openly showed he was a "very brave young man."   

The ruling makes clear that  even though Kotylak has been given a serious sanction, he still has a chance to redeem himself in the future.   

"The athlete was of previous excellent character prior to the events of June 15, 2011," the ruling states.   

"However, in light of all the evidence, it is the view of the committee that the athlete can again become a credit to himself, his family and his sport. He may still be able to represent his country with honour."

With files from the CBC's Curt Petrovich