It’s an ordinary Canadian scene: hockey coach Carey Durant is driving along a snowy Ontario road towards a game. His Toronto Penguins are playing at St. Michael’s College School and he’s got a game plan on his mind.
But he pauses for 10 seconds when he’s asked how he feels about seeing the name of his attacker, Gordon Stuckless, in headlines after all these years.
He lets out a long, strained breath.
“Sorry, I’m having a moment here,” he finally says into the phone. “I’m sad. I don’t care about him. I’ve gotten past him. He can’t do any more damage to me. But you can’t help but get upset. Because I know what I went through physically, what I went through mentally. It crushed me as a person.”
On Thursday, he relived it all. Toronto Police announced that two grown men have come forward with allegations against Mr. Stuckless in connection with incidents they say took place when he was an equipment manager at Maple Leaf Gardens. He’s been charged with six counts of indecent assault on a male, assault and possession of a weapon or imitation.
From police accounts, their story mirrors that of Mr. Durant. They were 11 or 13 at the time and frequented a community centre and sports clubs where Mr. Stuckless volunteered. Fifteen years ago, Mr. Durant told his story of sexual abuse at the hands of Mr. Stuckless to a courtroom, charges that led to a conviction for sex assaults on 24 boys from 1969 to 1988.
Like all 11-year-olds in the late 1970s, Carey Durant worshipped Darryl Sittler and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He bonded immediately with the Gardens’ equipment manager, Mr. Stuckless, who also was a teacher’s aide and spent his spare hours hanging around a Regent Park outdoor rink, running gym classes and coaching after-school programs.
“He would come over to meet moms, be a good guy,” Mr. Durant said. “He would befriend kids like me, from low-income, one-parent families. He was just the guy taking care of their kids.”
The kindly equipment manager offered up Maple Leafs tickets, showered his victims in sticks and pucks. Once the trust was gained, the abuse began, Mr. Durant says. It lasted for two years and happened in the Durants’ apartment. “What took place, that’s the only thing I won’t talk about. If you have a kid, and you knew someone crossed a line with your kid, would it matter exactly what they did? As soon as you know someone crossed the line sexually with your kids, it’s unacceptable.”
He kept it a secret for most of his life. The only person he told was his wife before they got married. He was still married in 1997 when Martin Kruze came forward with allegations that he was the victim of a pedophile ring operating in Maple Leaf Gardens. “He gave an opportunity for all the rest of us to come forward. My childhood was taken from me. The hardest thing for me today is to look at pictures of me as a little kid. I see kids enjoying themselves playing hockey, and I never got to be that kid. I had been living this dark secret for a long time and I decided it was time to change my life.”
In 1997, Mr. Stuckless was sentenced to two years less a day – later bumped up to five years.
Three days after the initial sentence, Martin Kruze died by suicide.
Mr. Durant’s marriage dissolved. He never did drugs, he says, but he drank more than he should have and stayed out late wandering the streets alone rather than go home to his wife and son.
He sued Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the Toronto District School Board. Both settled out of court.
“It didn’t matter if they gave me five bucks or $500-million – it didn’t do anything for me,” he said. “This guy abused a lot of people and I hope he goes away for the rest of his life.”