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WAYNE YOUNG: NHL coaches on notice

Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters during practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on April 9, 2019.
Bill Peters resigned as head coach of the Calgary Flames on Friday. - Al Charest/Postmedia

He’s only four years old but already, it’s clear that hockey is in his blood.

I doubt that Crosby or Ovechkin could celebrate a goal more enthusiastically than my grandson as he “skates” on socks and blasts a plastic puck through my legs on our living room floor.

“Scorrrrrrrre!” he bellows, hockey stick and arms high in the air and a broad smile lighting up his face as he dives in for a celebratory hug with the nearest bystander.

It was the same more than half a century ago when my older brother and I played “sock hockey” on our kitchen floor before NHL games on Saturday night.

Hockey is a beautiful game and Canadian youngsters, inspired these days by McDavid, Matthews, MacKinnon and others, are still drawn to it in droves.

But a much darker side of the sport is emerging, one that suggests some NHL coaches practice or at least tolerate abuse, bullying and intolerance.

Former coach Don Cherry, star of Coach’s Corner on CBC, was recently fired after a nationally televised rant in which he slammed new immigrants who he said were not buying poppies to honour Canada’s veterans.

After Mike Babcock was fired as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs last weekend, the Toronto Star reported an incident involving Mitch Marner during the 2016-2017 season. Then a rookie, Marner was asked by Babcock to list his teammates by those who worked hardest and those who worked the least. Babcock then shared his answers with veterans on the team who were given a low rating by Marner.

It’s mind-boggling how any coach at any level of any sport could do that, let alone an award-winning coach in the NHL. To Marner’s credit, he later accepted an apology from Babcock.

That story triggered another this week involving the coach of the Calgary Flames from a player he coached in the minors 10 years ago. Bill Peters has admitted to and apologized for making racial slurs, but he said they were not directed at any one player. The apology was panned by the complainant as misleading and insincere.

Another of Peters’ former players then alleged he and others were physically abused by the coach while playing in Carolina.

He said Peters kicked him in the back during a game and punched another player in the head. The team’s current coach, Rod Brind’Amour, confirmed the incidents happened and that the team handled them “correctly,” but he didn’t elaborate.

On Friday, Peters resigned as head coach of the Flames.

I suspect there will be more allegations about professional coaches who have crossed ethical and possibly legal lines in the locker rooms and behind the benches. Firing, fining and/ or suspending proven offenders should send a not-so-subtle reminder to all coaches that such reprehensible behaviour won’t be tolerated.

Back in my living room, I watch the unbridled excitement of my young grandson as he celebrates another goal.

I sincerely hope, should he decide to pursue the sport, that it will be in a culture of tolerance and inclusion, and in a safe environment where boys and young men can develop their skills.

And that he will always have the same pure love and enthusiasm for the game that he has today.

Wayne Young is a freelance writer living in Summerside.

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