Sirrell, now a lifelong friend, says Carson “was aces on the ice. He would listen. He never missed. There were never any issues apart from him one time leaving the bench to defend a teammate.”
Larry Shields also got involved with the high-school team, serving as parent manager. “He was the ideal hockey parent for us,” Sirrell says. “One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet in your life.”
And yet, Sirrell began hearing his captain, off the ice, was “a bit of a wild character – the one who had to be ‘The Guy’ at the parties.”
Because of his higher skills, Carson had made the team in Grade 10. The seniors introduced him to alcohol and he liked it. A lot. In the journal of his hockey years that he kept – now an expanding memoir entitled The Beauty he and friend Brandi Parnell hope to polish and publish – he wrote drinking made him funnier and people liked him more.
Certainly, most of the junior coaches he would play for liked him fine. He had skill enough, but more heart than most. He would do whatever it took to win, whatever it took to stay with the team.
It was early in his wandering junior hockey career – he would be a “rookie” on several teams – that he attended the hazing ritual that, he says, “haunts me to this day.”
The veterans on this particular team, mostly 18- to 20-year-olds, forced the handful of new players to strip naked in the street outside a house they had the use of one weekend. No coaches were involved; no team officials even knew it was taking place.
Carson knew he was being targeted for special treatment. He was new, big, brazen, and some of the veterans wanted to see him put in his place. The drinking that began early in high school had given him a bit of “wild” reputation that some teammates resented. He was first called to the gathering’s “court” and told to choose from six glasses of clear liquid. Once he chose the one containing only water, he would be freed.
He went through five glasses without finding water – he knew from the tastes that he had downed vodka, white rum and sambuca – and was told to drink the sixth anyway. It was gin.
The drinking went on until the rookies were completely inebriated. They were forced to do an “elephant walk” about the rooms: each rookie holding onto the testicles of the hunched-over rookie walking ahead of him.
Forced to drink even more, the rookies were then stuffed in a bare room where several vomited, one all over Carson. They were brought out and ordered to “bong” three beers each – chugging the entire contents at once. Before passing out, he remembers girls being brought up from downstairs, but then nothing …
In the days that passed, he heard from others how out of it he had been. He was told at least one veteran player had urinated on him. He found out that photographs had been taken of him in humiliating poses, pictures that to this day give him nightmares. He was shattered.
He remembers being in his car after he had learned the extent of the humiliating hazing. “I was thinking maybe I should just get into an accident – and end it all.”
Hockey Canada is crystal clear on its policy on hazing: It is forbidden. The organization that oversees minor hockey throughout Canada defines the act as “an initiation practice that may humiliate, demean, degrade, or disgrace a person regardless of location or consent of the participant(s).”
Penalties are severe – suspension, even expulsion.
For the past decade and more, Hockey Canada has tried to be active on the hazing issue with its “Speak Out” clinics and various online programs for athletes and their parents, as well as volunteers who become certified coaches, trainers and managers. But it cannot prevent young players from acting on their own, whether the “hazing” rituals involve something as harmless as singing a song in front of teammates or as harmful as what Carson Shields experienced.
Two years ago, in small-town Manitoba, the junior-A Neepawa Natives made a 15-year-old rookie “tug” across the room a water bottle that was tied to his scrotum. When this incident and others were reported by a team official who discovered what had taken place, the league moved to fine the team $5,000, suspend 16 players and suspend two coaches, one of whom had been the whistleblower. The RCMP investigated, but no charges were laid.