(Note: TheHockeyNews.com is attempting to contact all 14 additional players who recently filed affidavits in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in the proposed hazing/abuse class action lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League to allow them to tell their stories. The privacy of those who decline will be respected. Subject matter may be disturbing to some readers.)
Forty years later and a continent away, Fred Ledlin still feels the pain. It’s not the same physical excruciation he endured when he was repeatedly sexually assaulted as a teenager under the guise of junior hockey hazing, but it’s every bit as agonizing. His hands shake when he talks about it. His mind goes back to those nights when he felt abandoned and betrayed, by the hateful veteran teammates who were humiliating him and the coaches and management members who watched it happen and did nothing to stop it.
“You don’t forget the pain. You bleed,” said Ledlin, now a 57-year-old who lives in Stuttgart, Germany. “Your butt feels like you have a destroyed sports car coming out of it every time you go to the bathroom. (People) show up at the game, you pay your ticket, you go get some popcorn and a pop and it’s entertainment for the fans. Meanwhile, you’ve got young players down below that could have possibly had something horrific done to them hours prior to the game.”
But in telling his story, Fred Ledlin is also finding his voice. Finally. For all that the game did to him, he actually loves hockey. After a Western League career that was highlighted by a 50-goal season with the Seattle Breakers in 1983-84, Ledlin went on to have a rewarding career in Germany and is now in the process of trying to establish a team in Stuttgart in the country’s top pro league. Earlier this year, Ledlin was recovering from COVID when his wife alerted him to a story of two former Canadian Hockey League players, Dan Carcillo and Garrett Taylor, who were the faces of a proposed class-action lawsuit against the CHL for hazing and sexual abuse.
“I said to my wife, ‘I wonder if numbers will help. If I include my story, maybe that will help them and maybe somebody else will join on,’ ” Ledlin told TheHockeyNews.com. “My daughters saw it and they just said, ‘Oh my God, Dad. I had no idea this had happened to you. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.’ They just couldn’t believe it. It’s not something you talk about at dinner with your kids or your wife or family.”
Of the 14 additional players who filed affidavits in the lawsuit, Ledlin’s might have been the most disturbing. In it, he alleges that he was repeatedly hazed and sexually assaulted, both in the Western League and the BC Junior League. In 1980-81, he played with the Coquitlam Comets Jr. A team and was hazed. That summer, he went to a rookie camp with the Victoria Cougars and was hazed. In the fall of 1981, he went to camp with the Kamloops Jr. Oilers and made the team, which came with another round of hazing. Midway through that season, he was dealt to the Seattle Breakers and, since he was still a rookie and coming to a new team, he was hazed once again.
And it went far beyond a little innocent fun at the expense of the new guy. In Kamloops it was particularly humiliating. Rookies there would regularly and repeatedly have the knobs of hockey sticks covered in heat liniment inserted into their anuses. Toothpicks covered in liniment were inserted into their urethras. They were made to read pornographic magazines and were hazed on whether or not they got erections. Veterans would defecate and force the rookies to throw it at each other. Players would tie a skate lace to the end of a rookie’s penis, throw the lace over a pipe and tie the other end to a pail in which they would toss pucks, allowing the rookie free only after there were 25 pucks in the bucket. In Seattle, Ledlin said the veterans hired out prostitutes and forced the rookies to have sex with them.
The worst incident came in Kamloops on the team’s road trip to Victoria for a game. Shortly after the team bus parked on the ferry, Ledlin was pulled out of his seat by a group of veterans and brought to the back of the bus. “We had a rack on the back of the bus. All of a sudden, four or five guys take me out of my seat on the bus, drag me to the back and your clothes are gone and your ankles are taped up on this rack and you’re butt-naked. And they start to shave you and they start to apply heat and it was actually toothpicks they used and they’d put Tiger Balm or the hottest thing they could find. I remember being hung upside down on the bus. And the whole time you’re stressed and thinking, ‘Why are they doing this? We have a game in four hours. Why did they pick now to do it?’ The coach is watching and everybody is watching. And all of a sudden the bus parks and the players and coaches get off and I’m on the bus by myself, hanging upside down and I’m on the glass at the back and I’m trying to get moisture off the glass to cool my genitals down because they felt like they were on fire.”
One of the reasons Ledlin said he was hazed so often was that he would fight back against the veterans, even though he was only 140 pounds. And the more he fought back, the more he was subjected to the humiliation. He recalled actually having to strategically plan his post-game and post-practice showers to reduce the chances of being attacked by his teammates. “You see who’s going in the shower and I’d always time it so I could go in and have the quickest shower possible and I’d put as much foam on me as I could,” Ledlin said. “If I saw guys starting to huddle, you just start to lather yourself up and try to make yourself as slippery as possible. And if the guys come in, you do your best to fight and get out. It happened more than once after a game that I’m trying to get away from these guys and I ran out into the corridor and there you are standing butt naked with shampoo and soap all over you and there’s 150, 200 fans waiting to talk to players when they come out.”
After his first year in the WHL, Ledlin became a star player, scoring 50 goals in 70 games in his second full season in the league. The next year was his overage year and after attending the Calgary Flames’ rookie camp, he went from the Portland Winter Hawks to the Medicine Hat Tigers to the Winnipeg Warriors, where a 30-year-old by the name of Graham James was an assistant coach. He finally had enough when, during a lopsided game, his coach in Winnipeg ordered him to go out and fight. Ledlin left the bench, quit the team and was on a flight to Germany within days. Ledlin’s experience in the WHL prompted him to send his son Mark, who now plays in Germany’s third division, to go to Europe to play junior hockey instead of staying in Canada. And when Ledlin lived in his native British Columbia after his playing days, he refused to billet junior hockey players because of what he experienced.
None of Ledlin’s allegations, nor any of the others, has been proven in court. And it would be wrong to think that things have not changed in junior hockey since the time Ledlin played. But there are still systemic issues in junior hockey that need to be addressed and most of them have to do with the power dynamic between veterans and rookies and coaches and players. Most players know they either shut up and accept their fate or they’re out of the game. Ledlin wants to change that.
“I want kids to come in with a free mind to be able to play and show me what talents they’ve got and not be bleeding out of the anus,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I want to say to all the parents, ‘Do your due diligence’. You spend a fortune taking your kids to hockey schools and private lessons. Check into where your kid is going to play because in the end, I don’t think any kid should have to go through that.”