Former pro hockey player awarded $605,000 over sex assault by coach

A former pro hockey player who said his NHL career was cut short because of sexual abuse inflicted by a childhood coach has been awarded $605,000 by the B.C. Supreme Court.

The 35-year-old Victoria businessman, who was good enough to be drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, sued former coach Richard Hall in civil court for damages resulting from two sexual assaults when he was 13.

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Justice Dev Dley ruled in a written judgment that the assaults and their impact — drinking, dysfunction and mental health difficulties — damaged the man's National Hockey League career, specifically the loss of a first three-year contract with the NHL.

The judge awarded a total of $605,000, covering everything from loss of money from that first contract, about $372,000, to $4,500 for future psychotherapy.

Hall, a former Oak Bay Minor Hockey Association coach, had also abused two minor hockey players, who later successfully sued the provincial government. The judge in that case ruled that Hall's probation officer was negligent in the fulfilment of his duties and the provincial government, as the probation officer's employer, was liable.

The probation officer had a duty to inform the minor hockey association that Hall had been convicted in 1984 of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy and had been sentenced to two years probation.

However, the association was not told and Hall went on to sexually abuse more players, including the man who successfully sued the provincial government this week.

Hall assaulted the man twice in the summer of 1988, including oral and anal intercourse. The assaults left the boy, who had been close to the coach, feeling betrayed, angry and ashamed.

He disclosed the assaults in 1989, after other sexual assaults by Hall were publicized.

The player carried on with hockey, his lawyer Doug Thompson said, although he experienced an undercurrent of anger when he walked into a rink, found it difficult to trust another coach and had difficulty forming relationships. In Grade 10, he discovered alcohol.

By Grade 11, he had drawn the eye of U.S. universities and the Western Hockey League.

He completed Grade 12 playing in the WHL, though he felt anger and a lack of emotional control on the ice, Dley wrote.

He drew the attention of the Maple Leafs when he was 17 and was drafted by them.

In the years before and shortly after, he still lashed out on the ice, and had numerous drunken binges. By early 1995, he had bottomed out, Dley said, and it was only then that he told his team managers about the abuse. He was counselled that year and had the best year of his junior career.

However, his career did not lead to the NHL. In June 1995, the Leafs told him they would not offer him a contract. He played hockey for several more years in the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League, both below the NHL.

Although Thompson argued that the man's career was hurt in various ways by the abuse, the judge ruled that the main impact was the loss of a first contract with an NHL team. The abuse created several mood and personality disorders, diagnosed by a psychologist.

Hockey requires not just physical ability, Dley wrote, but emotional control, mental toughness, a strong sense of identity, trust, a positive attitude and coachability in order to excel.

"I am satisfied that the plaintiff's disorders, which affected his mental health, had a negative impact on the mental and emotional tools required to fully realize one's potential as a professional hockey player," Dley wrote.

Without the disorders, Dley wrote, there was a "real possibility that the plaintiff would have been drafted higher. A higher draft position would likely have resulted in the plaintiff being given a better chance to secure a contract. ... The plaintiff was denied that opportunity."

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