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Best of the Daily Dish: Zero Tolerance? Junior Hockey News

Published: Tuesday, 8 Sep 2020  
By: Stephen Heisler,

**This is one of many articles that gets published every year because it's important information that every player and their family needs to be aware of. **
Today I want to touch on a subject that will not be very popular, but in reality it's very important that everybody involved with junior hockey take notice.  There's no such thing as casual drug (and alcohol) use. There's also no such thing as half dead.

Am I being dramatic? Maybe. The facts are simple, drug overdoses (and alcohol poisoning) are a major killer of young people in the same age bracket as junior hockey. 

Generally, I think that junior hockey players may be shielded from what affects most young people, but that does not mean there are not risks to be considered. The biggest influences of those risks are often other players.

It is my opinion that USA hockey (and Hockey Canada, AAU, the USPHL) needs to firm up their zero-tolerance policy in regards to drug and alcohol use and related instances.  Allowing a coach to handle the issue is simply shameful. The zero tolerance policy needs to be exactly that, and the last person that should be handling a abuse related issue is the coach. I think leagues have to mandate that any drug related instance be reported and that steps are taken to ensure that the player (or players) is getting proper education and treatment for the drug use.

One of the players involved in the heroin arrests in Chicago a few years back actually died from a drug overdose about a year later. Was that an isolated incident? Who knows, I don't know how many situations ever come to light. Frankly I'm getting tired of all the cover-ups.  Why are other stories like this swept under the carpet? What more would it take for the authorities of the game to take these problems more seriously? 

All too often people want to place blame for the decisions made by the overdose victims, and by that time it's simply too late. 

Priorities in regards to the behavior of the player should be taken into consideration long before sending the young man away to become somebody else's problem.  

There are always signs. It's beyond the time when coaches, team owners, teammates, and team staff need to take a proactive position whenever there is a slight suspicion of drug and/or alcohol use. 

Those opposing this view are going to say that most of these young men are adults and should have the ability to make adult decisions.  Those adults that cannot live with a zero tolerance policy should move out from junior hockey and into senior hockey. Exposing other young players to a culture that includes drug and alcohol use is highly irresponsible. 

It's time for the parents to take a stand. Don't depend on coaches to protect your sons, be fully informed in regard to the team's drug and alcohol policy before signing on the bottom line.  

Teams that are known to run a little bit loose should be avoided. Coaches that have a history of overlooking off ice behavior should be avoided. Parents that overlook past histories of teams and coaches only have themselves to blame should things go wrong.

So what inspired this article? This letter from a very concerned parent with a son playing in one of the non-sanctioned leagues.


I was recently informed about some very disturbing events that have occurred on my son's team.  I want to express my concerns here because the team is turning a blind eye to some very alarming conduct.  In my opinion, the team needs to be held accountable.

Any parent that has been around junior hockey, either as a player or a parent, knows that there will always be instances of 17 to 20-year-old kids experimenting with alcohol, drugs and engaging in other stupid activity.  When these events happen, however, it is incumbent upon the team leadership to address these matters and take corrective action.  This alleviates the issue from growing larger.  

As parents, we are entrusting our young men with hockey organizations like this to manage these situations.  That includes addressing player off-ice misconduct so that a culture of widespread drug and alcohol abuse does not develop.  Unfortunately, it appears the team just want to sweep this conduct under the rug to avoid any harm from coming to the team on-ice.  I took the time to look-up the team record and, in short, the team is already struggling. 

This weekend they lost all three games.  Perhaps this dismal performance is, in part, the result of widespread partying and a lack of organizational discipline.  A few extra bag-skates will do nothing to resolve the issue.  More must be done.  Perhaps the coach and ownership should be called upon to respond to the following:

- Two players have been charged with possession of marijuana, yet no team discipline was imposed.  One player remains on the team without sanction and the other fled home to Europe while an active warrant for his arrest still remains here in the states.  Why didn’t the coach or ownership do anything about this issue when they became aware?  Is it okay to allow players with criminal drug charges to remain on the team?  Can’t players be tested to see if this issue is widespread?  Maybe the coach and ownership doesn’t want to know?

- The team has weekly parties where alcohol and marijuana are prevalent.  One player has a fake ID and provides the alcohol while his teammates supply the marijuana.  To make things worse, these parties happen at one of the billet homes, where the billet is unable to supervise at night because of work commitments.  Despite being made aware of these parties, coach has taken no action.  Not one suspension, not even one game.  The player with the fake ID continues to play, the kids remain with the billet family, and the parties rage on.  Why would the coach not even take action on the player with a fake ID.  I am pretty sure having a fake ID and using it to buy alcohol is a crime.  Why isn’t anyone looking into the marijuana use?  Isn’t that illegal also?   Does the team condone criminal conduct?  I hear there are pictures circulating around of these parties and that the coach has seen them.  Yet he does nothing.  Why?

- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there was a younger player on the team.  Shockingly, he was placed in the billet home that has all the parties with none other than the player with the fake ID as his billet brother.  What in the world was the coach thinking?  If the young man is going to play junior hockey, why wouldn’t the team at least place him in a billet family with structure. Perhaps a billet family where at least one parent is home at night?  Instead, he is placed in an unsupervised environment with the very kid that dispenses alcohol to his teammates.  Why would a coach do such a thing?   As one would expect, the young player attends the parties and consumes alcohol and makes other stupid decisions.  His parents took him off the team and are outraged.  Understandably, Father demands that the players involved be disciplined.  Instead, coach turns a blind eye to the situation and no discipline is meted out.  Why? 

My thought in writing this letter is that it troubles me when I hear of teams not fulfilling their responsibility to parents and players.  Since the team won’t take action perhaps someone else can figure out how to do something before someone gets hurt.

The kids on this team are out of control and the coach refuses to believe there is a problem. Unfortunately, the issue is widespread across the spectrum of the game and culture. The behavior seldom has a happy ending.

The only thing worse than putting a hockey player into the grave is watching one put himself there.  

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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