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‘It’s toxic’: Former NHLer Carcillo won’t be silent about hockey’s hazing culture

It’s been more than 15 years since Daniel Carcillo moved away from home in pursuit of his goal of becoming a professional hockey player.

He’s tried his best not to think about what he said happened to him during his time as a member of the Sarnia Sting.

“One of the most vivid memories that stands out is one of my teammates being taped to a table ass-up naked being whipped with his own belt by two veterans. He was screaming,” Carcillo told CBC.

Daniel Carcillo speaks out about alleged abuse:

He said one of the coaches heard the screams and came out of his office. He said the coach gave the tied down player a token slap.

“It was more of a joking participation, but to me — sitting in my stall watching this — it told me that I had nobody to turn to, to tell this type of stuff to, you know, to tell these guys what we were going through,” Carcillo said.

‘Some guys would get it harder than others’

The recent high-profile stories that emerged detailing a series of alleged sexual assaults involving sports teams at an elite Toronto private school prompted Carcillo to speak up about his own ordeal.

“It’s amazing how you can experience a very emotional trauma and not even think about it,” Carcillo said.

“And then something as simple as reading a paper and reading about somebody else’s abuse can trigger all of these emotions and imagery and just it’s so vivid — you’re right back in it,” ​Carcillo said of what he and his fellow rookies endured during the 2002-03 Ontario Hockey League season.

“I moved away from home at 17 to chase my dream of making it to the NHL and making something of myself. And what myself and 11 of us had to endure that year was daily abuse,” Carcillo recalls.

He said rookie players were often made to pull their pants down and subject themselves to beatings with a jagged goalie stick.

“Some guys would get it harder than others because they were misunderstood or some of the guys thought we were a little bit off or weird and we just didn’t fit that mould of a typical masculine hockey player,” Carcillo said.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. He recalls being stuffed into a bus washroom with six teammates.

“Forty-five minutes and being naked in a hot box having their tobacco-chew spit thrown through a vent at us. That was my breaking point,” Carcillo remembers.

Carcillo said coaches and management were often aware of what was going on and even participated on occasion — like the incident with the tied-down player.

‘Time is right’

Carcillo eventually went over team management and took his concerns to OHL commissioner David Branch. Carcillo credits Branch with taking steps to mitigate his situation.

In a statement to CBC, the OHL said it continues have a zero tolerance on hazing and has been implementing policies to prevent hazing or bullying for several years. It said players are encouraged to bring concerns forward without fear of reprisal. Each team has an independent chaplain who can hear confidential concerns or complaints.

Carcillo said there is a lot more work to be done and thinks the time is right.

carcillo daniel

After his time in the OHL, Daniel Carcillo won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015 with Chicago. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jay Johnson is a professor at the University of Manitoba and has studied hazing in sports extensively.

“When these stories first came out, I said a few times that I thought this might be sort of on the level of the hashtag me too movement.” Johnson said. “That one kind of horrific story comes forward and it empowers other people to come forward with their horrific stories. The time seems right that we can come forward with these stories and maybe prompt some action.”

At the same time, Johnson said Carcillo and others pushing for change face significant obstacles.

Management usually also part of the culture

“Coaches and athletic directors, general managers are generally former athletes themselves, right? So they’re also a part of that culture. And in terms of hazing, had it done to them and did it to others,” Johnson points out.

“And that really normalizes behaviour, because everyone’s doing it. So the biggest resistance I would say are actually the people that are in it. And it takes someone like we saw today with Dan kind of coming out and saying ‘hey, I had it done to me and it was one of the worst things and almost ended my career’.”

Carcillo wants to give victims a voice, a conduit to tell their stories.

Despite what he went through, he emerged from his time in Sarnia and went on to an NHL career that included two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Still, those years in Sarnia linger.

“Look back to that roster and go look up the names of guys that were on those teams in Sarnia and look how messed up some of us are with addiction issues, relationship issues,” Carcillo said.

“It was supposed to be the best year of my life and the culmination of my dreams and all my hard work,” Carcillo recalls.

“Instead, we had to endure that abuse, that daily abuse, and it was something that I thought was normal … because I was told by my abusers that next year you’ll be able to do it to the rookies, to the next class coming in. I remember thinking as they were hitting me in my head that I could never physically bring myself to do this to somebody, it’s too painful.”

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