Coach thought he couldn’t talk about player’s sexual assault: Cullitons prez
Published Friday, February 6, 2015 11:57AM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 6, 2015 6:54PM EST
The recently departed coach of the Stratford Cullitons wasn’t trying to hide a player’s sexual assault conviction from the organization, the team’s president says – he thought he was unable to say anything about it at all.
Speaking to the media Friday morning, Cullitons president Dan Mathieson said that former coach Phil Westman knew at least about a charge against assistant captain Mitch Vandergunst four months ago.
“At the time there was some discrepancy whether it was a charge versus a conviction,” Mathieson said.
“He was told there was a publication ban. Mr. Westman believed that he could not breach that.”
Westman resigned as coach Thursday, saying he took full responsibility for not informing the hockey team’s higher-ups about Vandergunst’s legal situation.
Last October, Vandergunst was convicted on two counts of sexual assault.
He continued to suit up for the Cullitons until Jan. 24.
Last week, Mathieson says, the team’s board of directors learned of the situation and immediately moved to suspend Vandergunst, who was sentenced Wednesday to one year in prison and two years on probation.
Prior to his resignation, Westman had been affiliated with the Cullitons for 15 years.
Assistant coach Tyler Canal will handle the Cullitons’ coaching duties on an interim basis, with Jason Lott taking over Westman’s other role as the team’s director of hockey operations.
Another player, Ty Bilcke, has parted ways with the Cullitons in the aftermath of Vandergunst’s sentencing.
“I have now been dismissed from the (Cullitons) for believing in and supporting my best friend,” Bilcke tweeted Thursday night.
Vandergunst was released from custody on bail this week, as he plans to appeal his conviction.
Even if the overage forward is successful in that appeal, Mathieson said, he would not be welcome back on the team.
“He along with others had an obligation to tell us … what they were doing,” Mathieson said.
“We can’t condone secrecy.”
The Ontario Hockey Association is also watching the situation closely, although CEO Scott Farley told CTV News he was impressed with the “good and thorough investigation” conducted by the Cullitons.
Asked if Westman would be able to coach again in the league, Farley said it would depend on the outcome of their investigation.
“We’ll look at that,” he said.
“He’s a great coach. He’s been a great ambassador of junior hockey.”
In the future, Mathieson said, every adult affiliated with the Cullitons will have to sign a form stating that, if charged with a criminal offence, they will notify two people in the team’s hierarchy.