From coast to coast, thousands of Canadian families spend their time in hockey rinks — forming bonds and growing the game.
Recently, the highest level of professional hockey has had a dark spotlight cast on it over allegations of coaching misconduct, ranging from racial slurs to physical abuse.
The allegations have led to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly releasing a joint statement that outlines a thorough review of the league that aims to result in, “ensuring that hockey is an open and inclusive sport at all levels.”
For many Canadians who have spent much of their lives inside hockey rinks, the allegations aren’t surprising, said Dave Hessian, a former junior hockey coach.
“When I first started, there were much more racial slurs and verbal abuse and I’d even seen a coach grab a face-mask, or something. Some of those are heat of the moment things and there’s no intent behind it but at the same time, there’s just absolutes and you absolutely can’t behave that way.”
Hessian grew up playing hockey before he moved into coaching. Since then, he’s seen his son grow up playing hockey and continues to advocate for the game providing valuable life lessons for both youth and adults.
However, he doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the sport has grown to be much more inclusive than it used to be, based on his experiences.
“I have noticed in the last couple years working with younger people and seeing the young kids here today — they’re much more accepting of the diversity that exists in Canada and I’m glad that they’re bringing that to hockey and you can see that in the coaching too, the courses that people take,” Hessian said.
The allegations have sparked widespread discussions over how the culture of hockey has evolved over the decades.
During the late 1960s and 70s, Darrell Maxwell was one of the first Black Nova Scotians to play university hockey in Nova Scotia.
During that time, the league was called the Atlantic Intercollegiate Hockey League (AIHL) and Maxwell says racism was a constant reality.
“When it occurred during my time, it was something that we just had to live with, more or less. Especially (when we) played in certain areas, we knew what was coming, we were kind of prepared for it and we tried to do our best to, I guess, just take it on and as bad as it was, it made us stronger.”
The recent NHL allegations aren’t surprising to Maxwell but he’s optimistic discrimination within the game will continue to diminish, the more people take a stand against it.
As for training and vetting in hockey organizations countrywide, Hockey Nova Scotia touts some of the “strictest and most rigorous” coaching and volunteer protocols in Canada.
“A couple of the credentials within that process is our Safe Sport and Respect in Sport program that is for every parent and every coach that participates in our game is required to take that training,” said Amy Walsh, the executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia.
Walsh says the organization has also recently expanded its risk management committee to address complaints in a more timely manner.