Rink rats on trial

Sex, hockey and a search for justice in small-town Ontario

Rink rats on trial

It was a revolting picture of life in junior hockey: 16-year-old boys hidden away in a small-town motel, having group sex with local teenage girls while the boys’ 29-year-old coach allegedly either joined in or played choreographer to the entire tableau. Even the coach’s defence lawyer couldn’t conceal her disgust. The undisputed facts raise dismaying questions about the prevailing culture in Canada’s national game, Marie Henein acknowledged before a courtroom in Napanee, Ont. “But this is not a time for us to try the misogyny in the hockey world,” she lamented. “If I could, I truly, truly would.”

The trial of David Frost has brought hockey’s reputation to a new low, all right. Last week, witness after witness took the stand to describe not so much an athletic enterprise as an alternate moral dimension—a place where group sex, promiscuity and polyamorous relationships were commonplace. One woman, who was 16 when the saga began in the late 1990s, testified to having between 25 and 30 episodes of group sex involving the players and Frost during their time in Deseronto, Ont., where Frost was coaching the Junior-A Quinte Hawks. Two former players denied the coach was involved, yet provided their own lurid montages of threesomes and foursomes with girls they said continued even after the players moved on from the eastern Ontario town. One admitted to a three-way encounter involving his younger brother, lightly noting he wanted the girl involved to break his brother’s virginity. “It was something we kind of agreed upon,” he shrugged.

For Frost, the revelations may actually be good news. The former NHL agent faces four counts of sexually exploiting two players on the now-defunct Hawks. But the current case hangs on Criminal Code provisions governing the behaviour of people in positions of trust over minors—along with the prosecution’s theory that Frost controlled his players’ lives to the minutest detail. If both the players and the girls accepted debauchery as routine practice in the hockey world, the defence has reasoned, then Frost’s alleged role as mind-controlling ringleader is a non-starter. Both of the girls who testified at his trial acknowledged meeting up with the players for sexual trysts that had nothing to do with Frost, while the two alleged victims actually testified for the defence, appearing almost proud of their libertinism.

It’s enough to make you wonder whether the entire exercise had a point, given that Frost now appears safely out of the game. At 41, with a shambling gait and raspy voice, he is remembered as the ex-coach and agent of Mike Danton, a former St. Louis Blues forward and Quinte Hawk who’s currently serving 7½ years in a federal prison in Minnesota for trying to have Frost murdered. Frost has denied that Danton put a hit out on him, but neither has fully explained what happened between them.

The fear now is that Canadians will look upon the testimony of the past two weeks—a verdict is due on Nov. 28—as indicative of life in the junior game, says Bob Hooper, the commissioner of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. “Hockey doesn’t condone this stuff,” he says. “It’s not a normal part of any hockey I’ve been involved with in my 50 years as an administrator or a coach.” The OJHL, for example, requires all coaches to attend annual clinics on how to deal with youth players, and discourages teams from “stacking up players” in motels or rental houses, says Hooper. The Hawks, he notes, played in an upstart league operating outside of the Ontario Hockey Association, and were thus ungoverned by such safeguards.

On the other hand, the trial has highlighted how flat-out bizarre the relationship between Frost and his former players had grown, which may reinforce impressions that the whole scene was aberrant. Far from just playing for Frost, the boys lived with him; they partied with him; they summered with him; they took his side in fractious disputes with their parents (one player didn’t speak to his family for two years). By the harshest interpretation of hockey culture, their connection to the man was unusual.

Knowing this can only help the cause of preventing more such situations in the future, notes one prominent legal expert, and just because someone is found not guilty doesn’t mean the case shouldn’t have been tried. “No prosecutor can predict how things will go at trial, because this is a human exercise,” says Donald Stuart, a law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. “People do lie. People do protect people. From what I know of this case, I can’t fault anyone for bringing a prosecution to it, and for bringing publicity to a somewhat unseemly aspect of hockey.”

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