The Kelowna Rockets made it very clear at a press conference on Monday morning that the WHL team won’t be addressing a proposed head trauma class-action lawsuit involving former team captain James McEwan.
Last week, a notice of civil claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court for a potential class-action lawsuit by Canadian Hockey League players against the CHL, WHL and Hockey Canada.
McEwan is the proposed representative plaintiff.
More than a decade after his WHL career ended with the 2007-08 season, McEwan alleges he is suffering from a host of symptoms connected to hits to the head, including anxiety, severe mood swings, anger and suicidal thoughts.
The suit says McEwan was involved in more than 70 fights during his WHL career and alleges that the hockey organizations didn’t do enough to protect McEwan from head trauma.
“Mr. McEwan has stated that fighting was not just condoned and tolerated by the CHL, coaches and managers of the teams he had played for but was encouraged, praised and rewarded,” the civil claim said.
While the Rockets said they would not speak directly to the lawsuit, the team’s general manager defended the leagues’ safety practices.
“There are so few fights now that the game has dramatically changed … The game has gone to speed and skill, and that’s the way it is today,” Hamilton said.
“The Canadian Hockey League has had a concussion protocol for a long time, probably close to 15 years we’ve been following this, so we’ve done a pretty good job of that, we feel.”
Hamilton said that as part of the leagues’ concussion protocol, the CHL has a doctor based in Ontario that reviews players’ testing results any time they have symptoms.
The case has yet to be officially certified as a class-action lawsuit.
The Kelowna Rockets are not named as defendants in the case, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.
The notice of civil claim also includes statistics showing that fighting in the WHL decreased for six seasons in a row starting in the 2011-12 season.
The legal document said that in 2011, the WHL came up with a plan to cut down on hits to the head, and concussion rates dropped 20 per cent between 2012 and 2013.
However, the lawsuit argues that the drop-off in fights, at least in later years, can be attributed to “the general public’s increasing concern regarding concussions in junior hockey” rather than steps taken by the leagues.
The WHL, CHL and Hockey Canada have yet to file a response to the notice of civil claim with the B.C. Supreme Court.
In response to a request for comment, which included a copy of the notice of civil claim, the WHL commissioner said the league had not yet been served with a statement of claim in connection with the case.
“At such time as we receive one, we will thoroughly review it and, if appropriate, we will provide further comment,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a written statement.
The CHL also declined to comment, citing the same reason.
Hockey Canada has not yet responded to requests for comment.