Brent Sopel has made a statement in support of his former coach, Marc Crawford.
Crawford, who served as the Vancouver Canucks’ bench boss from 1999 to 2006, is currently under investigation by the Chicago Blackhawks, where he is currently employed as an assistant coach.
“The Chicago Blackhawks will be conducting a thorough review of assistant coach Marc Crawford based on the recent allegations that have been made regarding his conduct with another organization,” the Blackhawks announced on Monday, adding that Crawford will be away from the team until the completion of the review.
Crawford’s removal appears to be a response to an article recently published in the New York Post, in which former player Sean Avery claims Crawford kicked him when the two were together with the LA Kings during the 2006-07 season.
While Avery has since come out in support of Crawford, saying he “deserved” to be kicked, that’s not the case with another former player, Patrick O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan, an ex-Kings forward who played for Crawford in 2006-07 and 2007-08, claims his former coach is guilty of physical and verbal abuse.
I talked about his physical abuse in my book 4 years ago kicking me and others on the bench. Verbal abuse included homophobic slurs on a regular basis. I look forward to participating in your investigation. https://t.co/Grl8brdTan
— Patrick O'Sullivan (@realPOSULLIVAN) December 3, 2019
The only Vancouver connection to the Crawford allegations so far came from Sopel, who spoke in great detail about what he went through with the Canucks in an interview with the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast last year.
“He kicked me, he choked me, he grabbed the back of my jersey and pulled me back,” Sopel said. The former Canucks defenceman also recounted the type of verbal abuse he took from Crawford in order to play in the NHL.
But Sopel didn’t mean to put his coach on blast. On Thursday, Sopel spoke out in support of Crawford, in the form of a statement posted to Twitter.
“I told some stories from many years ago about my time as a professional hockey player,” Sopel said. “I shared those stories to entertain the listeners. I told those stories as a former NHL defenseman, and not as a victim.”
“It was not my intent to make any allegations against anyone or any organization. I was only speaking to how Coach Crawford affected me. I cannot speak for how others were affected by him. I played hundreds of games for Coach Crawford, including a season where I posted 42 points. He found ways to motivate me and make me a better player.”
Here’s the full statement:
My Statement pic.twitter.com/7emrbGcx0V
— Brent Sopel (@brent_sopel) December 5, 2019
It will be interesting to see how the Blackhawks, and the NHL as a whole responds to cases like Crawford’s. The stories about him are not new, but given publicity surrounding the coaching tactics of Mike Babcock and the racist behaviour of Bill Peters, coaches are under the microscope.
The league will need to outline what is and is not acceptable behaviour, as not everyone agrees what constitutes “abuse.” The world is changing and the NHL needs to change with it.
The next step is to figure out where to draw the line.