Gilles Lupien, a prominent National Hockey League player agent, has never gone public about the disturbing phone calls he received from a young junior hockey player 20 years ago.
But with many in the hockey world treating the lurid allegations coming out of former junior hockey coach David Frost's sexual exploitation trial as an aberration, the memory has been weighing heavily on his mind.
"The culture of junior hockey has to change," said the former Montreal Canadiens defenceman, who now represents Vancouver Canucks' goalie Roberto Luongo, Boston Bruins goalie Manny Fernandez and 13 other NHL players.
Mr. Frost, former coach of the defunct junior A Quinte Hawks, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual
exploitation relating to group sex acts with two former players.
In closing arguments yesterday, the defence argued that group sex involving three, four or five people is common in hockey and wasn't unique to the Hawks, but denied Mr. Frost ever participated in or orchestrated any such acts.
While many in Canada's hockey establishment have been quick to lay blame for the alleged events solely at Mr. Frost's feet, Mr. Lupien insists that the problem is more widespread.
Mr. Lupien - who himself rose through Canada's junior hockey system before winning two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens in the late 1970s - came to that realization two decades ago, after a series of phone calls from a distressed client.
"He called me the first time," Mr. Lupien recalled, "and said the coach always wants a private meeting with him after every practice. And he talks about all kinds of things, but never hockey."
Initially, Mr. Lupien advised his client, a leading scorer on the Drummondville Voltigeurs, to ignore coach Jean Begin's advances.
But he became concerned after a second wave of calls, during which the Drummondville prospect complained that the coach insisted on taking showers with him.
Then came the final straw. "The player calls me and says, 'He touched my ass in the shower.' "
Mr. Lupien says he immediately called to report the coach for sexual misconduct. "He just laughed," Mr. Lupien said, "and said, 'Look, you are making it sound worse than it is. You don't have proof.' "
That response, Mr. Lupien said, is typical of junior hockey's reaction to allegations of abuse. "What's said in the dressing room stays in the dressing room," he said. "That's wrong."
The person to whom Mr. Lupien said he reported the alleged incident said yesterday that he didn't remember any specific call from the agent.
Everything died down until several weeks later, when Mr. Begin was arrested and later charged with seven counts of sexual assault involving two young boys, neither of them his players. He pleaded guilty on all counts and was sentenced to six months in jail.
Released in 1991, Mr. Begin committed suicide.
"The league, the newspapers, they never talked about this," Mr. Lupien says. "When it comes to men and hockey, there's this notion that we have to hide anything bad."
But times have changed, hockey officials say. In the wake of Mr. Frost's case - and the earlier case of Graham James, the junior coach convicted in 1997 of more than 350 incidents of sexual assault - leagues nationwide have shored up rules that were once lax on misconduct of any kind.
Soon after Mr. James's story came to light, leagues brought in mandatory police record checks for every coach, trainer and billet family.
The Ontario Junior Hockey League, which in 1998 absorbed the league that included Mr. Frost's Quinte Hawks, adopted a strict no-hazing policy and mandated that all league personnel attend classes on abusive behaviour. It also clamped down on teenaged players living without adult supervision, according to OJHL commissioner Bob Hooper.
Mr. Frost lived with three of his players in the now-infamous Bay View Inn in Deseronto, Ont.
"Sometimes you get these boys who go from team to team, community to community, living in houses and motels by themselves - that's never a good option," said Mr. Hooper, who says he has twice hired private investigators to look into reports that players were being billeted without supervision.
The OJHL and most other leagues have also started advising coaches to avoid one-on-one interaction with players. "They should always have one other person in the room," Mr. Hooper said.
Slowly, he said, the league is stamping out off-ice misconduct.
"Last year, we only dealt with one case, a report of beer being put on a team bus. The penalty was a $5,000 fine. The coach was suspended for 12 games. That was just for a case of beer; you can imagine what it would be for an orgy."
Many league presidents encourage parents to scrutinize a team's personnel before sending a child away to play junior hockey, a trip that often takes boys as young as 15 thousands of kilometres from home.
"Every parent has a duty to examine the player's environment closely," says Ontario Hockey Association president Brent Ladds.
While junior hockey has been active in guarding against the Graham Jameses of the world, stories of sexually explicit hockey rituals continue to surface.
In 2000, several players for the University of Vermont's hockey program went public with hazing rituals that involved shaving pubic hair, performing nude push-ups and parading in an "elephant walk," which involved rookie players forming a chain by reaching between their legs and grabbing one another's genitals.
Three years ago, three rookies on the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires were stripped naked and crammed in the team bus's bathroom. In a demonstration of junior hockey's new hard-line stance on hazing, the Spitfires coach was suspended for 25 games.
Despite that new no-nonsense posture, Mr. Lupien says, the concerns about abuse in junior hockey that he first brought up two decades ago remain pertinent today.
The root of the problem, he says, is the lopsided relationship that exists between most players and their coaches. "We are the followers and the leaders are the coach," he said. "And if the coach happens to be a real bastard, he'll manipulate them. ... We have to take better care of our kids."