Western Hockey League Fines Moose Jaw Warriors $25K in Connection with February Incident Involving Four Players

On Friday, March 10th, after almost a month of silence, the Western Hockey League (“WHL”) issued an update on the indefinite suspensions of four Moose Jaw Warriors players. The players had been under investigation for violations of team rules and WHL Standard of Conduct Policies. While the WHL, citing privacy concerns, is declining to offer details on exactly what occurred, we have more details on disciplinary actions going forward and on the process that the WHL went through in arriving at sanctions.[1]

            The league confirmed that the four players – Connor Ungar, 21, Max Wanner, 19, Lynden Lakovic, 16, and Marek Howell, 16 – were suspended for an off-ice incident that occurred during a team road trip to Edmonton in February. The players have been suspended for the remainder of the WHL regular season.[2] The WHL has also suspended Moose Jaw Warriors General Manager Jason Ripplinger and Head Coach Mark O’Leary for five WHL regular season games, effective immediately. In a move that points towards a lack of institutional control – to borrow an NCAA phrase – the Moose Jaw Warriors Hockey Club has been fined $25,000. The League stated that the General Manager and the Head Coach have been disciplined for “failing to provide the proper oversight and supervision required to ensure a safe and positive environment for players, in particular, while traveling.”[3] Without further information, this brings to mind a situation involving drugs or alcohol, or perhaps hazing at a team hotel or on the bus.

            In a climate where hockey teams are under increased scrutiny for a “boys will be boys” attitude or, in the case of allegations against Harvard’s Women’s Ice Hockey Head Coach Katie Stone for fostering a culture of hazing and intimidation,[4] “girls will be girls” attitude, it is interesting to see a league taking such serious action without either a major media story or a criminal investigation. The WHL has stated that the league notified both the police forces in Edmonton and in Moose Jaw, and that the Edmonton Police Service found that the incident was not criminal in nature.[5] The Moose Jaw Police Service has not issued a statement.

            While it is still unclear what happened, and we may never know, one wonders who the lack of transparency is serving now. The suspended players? No doubt the Edmonton Oilers are doing their own due diligence on draft pick Max Wanner. Is the league protecting its image?

As leagues take action to enforce conduct policies, all involved will need to be aware of the ramifications – included enforced training or counseling. According to the WHL, the four Moose Jaw players will be required to complete further personal conduct and respect training.[6]   As a private entity the WHL can impose whatever discipline it desires so long as it follows its own rules, which includes setting the parameters for reinstatement following discipline. The Standard of Conduct Polices make it clear that the league may require that an individual who violates the policy must undergo a clinical evaluation and, based on the results of that evaluation, may be required to participate in counseling. Counseling is at the expense of the player or his family and “failure to comply with this portion of the policy shall in itself constitute a separate and independent breach of this policy and basis for discipline.”[7]

            Requiring players to undergo counseling as a prerequisite for reinstatement following discipline allows the league to appear to be addressing systemic incidents within junior hockey while at the same time putting the expense – and the work if the counseling is taken seriously – on players who are often not legal adults. Without knowing what occurred, it is difficult to assess if counseling consisting of personal conduct and respect training is an appropriate response from the league. The WHL has not announced any counseling requirements for Moose Jaw’s General Manager or for Moose Jaw’s Head Coach.

[1] https://whl.ca/article/whl-announces-sanctions-for-moose-jaw-warriors

[2] https://whl.ca/article/whl-announces-sanctions-for-moose-jaw-warriors

[3] https://whl.ca/article/whl-announces-sanctions-for-moose-jaw-warriors

[4] https://theathletic.com/4288145/2023/03/10/harvard-womens-hockey-mistreatment-hazing-katey-stone/

[5] https://whl.ca/article/whl-announces-sanctions-for-moose-jaw-warriors; https://oilersnation.com/news/whl-announces-sanctions-against-moose-jaw-warriors-including-edmonton-oilers-prospect-after-off-ice-incident

[6] https://whl.ca/article/whl-announces-sanctions-for-moose-jaw-warriors

[7] WHL Personal Conduct Policy, available at:  https://whl.ca/whl-standard-of-conduct-acknowledgement-form

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: