As soon as Dave Pszenyczny started reading Dan Carcillo’s tweets, he knew he had to speak with his dad and his wife.
Pszenyczny and Carcillo were 17-year-old rookies together on the 2002-03 Sarnia Sting, and Carcillo has recently said that first-year players on the Ontario Hockey League team were subjected to abusive hazing from older teammates.
Inspired by his longtime friend, Pszenyczny wanted to speak up too. But not before telling his story to the people closest to him.
"It’s kind of weird, I’m 33-years old but I’m talking to my dad like I’m 16-years old again," said Pszenyczny on Tuesday in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "You almost don’t want to tell anybody, because you’re embarrassed about what happened."
In a series of tweets over the weekend, Carcillo alleged he was beat with the paddle of a broken goalie stick, locked in the washroom on the team’s charter bus with six or seven other rookies as veteran players spat through the air vents, and urinated on in showers, among other incidents.
A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Carcillo was inspired to open up about his experience after news broke about an alleged sexual assault involving athletes at St. Michael’s College School, an all-boys private school in Toronto. The 33-year old also thought it would be helpful to share his story as part of Twitter’s Bullying Awareness Week.
Pszenyczny and Charles Amodeo, who joined the Sting for the 2003-04 season, saw Carcillo’s allegations and wanted to help end the toxic cycle of degrading behaviour by sharing their similar stories of abuse.
"Our goal is not to get anybody fired. It’s not to point fingers. It’s just to make people aware of what goes on," Pszenyczny said.
"My parents let me leave home at 15, 16 years old. If they knew this stuff was happening I’m sure they’d have pulled me right out. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this but at least we’re getting our story out now."
All three former teammates agree that they handled the alleged abuse differently. Amodeo said he became skittish, terrified about what could happen to him next. Carcillo said he was prone to lashing out at the veteran players as the abuse was happening. Pszenyczny said he would play along but then at practice he would start fist fights, knowing the older players couldn’t gang up on him out on the ice.
Pszenyczny believes that the fighting saved him from the worst of the abuse — he has no memory of being urinated or spat on in the shower, but said he did witness it.
Still, he said he was subjected to horrific treatment. He said during practice or games the rookies’ street clothes would be soaked in the shower and then put in a freezer so they were frozen solid when it was time to get dressed. He also said younger players had to get naked and into rolling laundry bins filled with unwashed equipment and were then pushed around the arena in what the veteran players called "the Rookie Rocket." He said one rookie fell out of his bin and required stitches afterwards.
Pszenyczny said another time he intended to sit out an optional skate due to a groin injury but veterans told him he still had to participate. Instead of running through drills, Pszenyczny said he was forced to strip naked and do pushups on the ice with his penis being dipped into FlexAll, a menthol-based ointment for sore muscles, every time he went down to the ground.
"My wife was my girlfriend at the time, and going through all this now, she didn’t even know all this was going on," said Pszenyczny. "She kinda had an idea but now she says ‘everything makes sense.’
"It was flat out degrading."
They say they believed complaining to the Sting management would fall on deaf ears. Instead, Carcillo contacted David Branch, the Ontario Hockey League’s commissioner, and Pszenyczny believes another of the 12 rookies in Sarnia contacted Hockey Canada.
The OHL said in a statement issued to The Canadian Press on Monday that the league immediately responded to Carcillo’s complaints and that, since these alleged incidents, has worked to crack down on hazing in the league.
Former Sting head coach Jeff Perry said Monday that he didn’t know about the alleged hazing until the OHL contacted the team after Carcillo filed his complaints. He did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Wednesday in response to Pszenyczny and Amodeo’s additional allegations.
Amodeo is the same age as Carcillo and Pszenyczny and was selected by the Sting in the same OHL draft as them, but elected to complete his high school education at St. Michael’s College School before moving from his home in Toronto to Sarnia.
When Amodeo joined the Sting for the 2003-04 season, Carcillo and Pszenyczny were in their second OHL seasons. Amodeo said the physical abuse of rookies had lessened and believes that was partly because of pressure from the OHL but also because players like Carcillo and Pszenyczny refused to put rookies through what they themselves had been through.
Still, Amodeo said he was stuffed into the trunks of cars for 45 minutes at a time, had garbage cans thrown at him, and endured constant verbal abuse.
"It’s very hard for a 16, 17, 18 year old to adjust to. It changes you," he said. "It was a power-trip culture. And you couldn’t say anything because if you did you were on the first bus home."
Amodeo, who played two seasons in Sarnia before quitting and pursuing a university education, said the experience with the Sting robbed him of his passion for hockey.
"St. Mike’s rolled me into the coffin and Sarnia put the nail in it," said Amodeo. "My girlfriend recently asked me ‘would you ever put your kid into hockey?’ and I said ‘hell no!"’
Carcillo said three of the veteran players have reached out to apologize to him since he went public with the alleged hazing.
At the time of the alleged incidents the Sting were owned by the Ciccarelli brothers, with Rob Ciccarelli acting as team president and governor until January 2015 when the team was sold to former NHLers Derian Hatcher and David Legwand. Rob Ciccarelli also did not immediately respond to an interview request from The Canadian Press.