When the subject of player hazing came up at the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice yesterday -- as it inevitably would given the recent lurid treatment of rookies on the Windsor Spitfires and the McGill University football team -- Pat Quinn noted that "hazing has been around since Plato's time, probably."
The National Hockey League head coach, who was probably just coming out of junior hockey when Plato was stickhandling his Republic masterwork past a publisher, said hazing "was always around the idea of some form of initiation."
"Sororities do it, fraternities do it. We've always had clubs that have these special rituals. So it's always been around sports," he said.
However, that "doesn't make it right," added Quinn, who is no fan of the practice. Nor does it assist in team-building, the usual excuse for humiliating new players.
Hazing, or initiation, a term that indicates a more gentle form of what is seen as a rite of passage, can be a terror for the rookies involved or a bit of harmless but embarrassing fun. It all depends on the personality of the team, according to an informal survey in the Maple Leafs locker room.
The more severe form of it also appears to be a North American custom.
Alexei Ponikarovsky and Alexander Khavanov, who both played in the Russian Superleague for Moscow Dynamo, said the hazing for rookies there was limited to making them carry equipment and pick up pucks after practice.
"If you're in Canada, it's crazy, all the rookie stuff," Ponikarovsky said. "I didn't hear about that from any guys I know [in Russia]
"They would put some extra stuff in my bag, the heavy stuff that belonged to the trainers and I carried it on my shoulders. We didn't have the service like you have here, so you would have to take all the bags from the airplane, all the sticks, and carry it to the bus," he said. "In your second year, it was not your responsibility because there were new guys."
Leafs goalie Mikael Tellqvist said on his team in the Swedish elite league the ritual was the rookie dinner, common on NHL teams these days, where the new guys picked up the tab for a team dinner in a posh restaurant.
"It wasn't too bad, maybe $1,000 Canadian," Tellqvist said of his experience.
Even that had to undergo reform in the NHL, at least on the Maple Leafs, as some veterans previously relished driving the bill into the stratosphere by ordering expensive wines.
"As far as I know, our captains stepped in," Quinn said of the restrictions on the team dinner, which has come down in price for Leafs rookies.
Darcy Tucker played his junior hockey in the Western Hockey League, where the initiations ran the gamut from shaving heads or bodies to the cramming of four naked teenagers into a bus washroom -- the activity that caused such a stir in Windsor, Ont., over its Ontario Hockey League team.
He is sympathetic to Spitfires head coach and general manager Moe Mantha, who was suspended for one year as general manager and 40 games as coach.
"When I played [junior] it was up to the players to police themselves to make sure no lines got crossed," Tucker said. "I find it hard to believe punishment falls on the coach and not on the players."
Tucker said the washroom prank is not unheard of in junior hockey and in the versions he has heard about it, he does not think it is a serious misdemeanour. But some say it can take a dark turn.
There have also been mishaps with the shaving, as players are injured in the struggles that precede it, although most quickly lie still when they see a razor headed for their nether regions.
One ritual was actually quite imaginative. The snipe hunt was popular in the 1980s, particularly on the St. Louis Blues.
The NHL team convened in a local bar, where the rookies were told they were about to embark on a quest for the elusive bird. They were taken into the woods where the local police, in on the joke, were waiting.
The rookies were arrested, charged with various misdeeds involving firearms and alcohol and thrown into cells at the police station.
After a few hours passed, the rookies were "bailed out" and the session reconvened at the bar.
But this prank dipped in popularity when Blues centre Doug Wickenheiser was hit by a car in a parking lot during the 1985 hunt. His knee was torn up and he missed several months of the hockey season.