The pandemic seemed to be the Fort Frances Lakers' biggest challenge this year, but with recent allegations against former head coach Bernie Lynch, the source of their troubles is even bigger.
CBC broke the news on March 4 that Lynch was suspended for inappropriate texts and emails to a player, who chooses to remain anonymous.
Gary Silander, president of the league, said the CBC article said more than they were aware of.
“I’m not entitled to say anything too much other than CBC blew it right out of the water, which is a good thing because now Hockey Canada will do something about it,” Silander said. “I’ve been messaging with these guys since the second of January, trying to do some stuff and it just hasn’t worked very well.”
The Fort Frances Laker Hockey Association (FFLHA) broke their silence on the allegations in a statement released on Monday. The release states that on Jan. 1, the FFLHA was made aware of inappropriate communications from Lynch to a player, adding that the board took immediate action and, on Jan. 2, Lynch was suspended from his coaching duties without pay, and ordered to have any further contact with players or other members of the organization.
Silander said Hockey Canada was notified by the players' billet family.
At the time of Lynch’s suspension, Hockey Canada confirmed that it had launched an investigation under the guidance of Glen McCurdie, it’s vice-president of insurance and risk management but have released few details since.
Lynch joined the team in September. With 47 years of experience under his belt, Lynch beat nine other candidates for the job.
Some of Lynch’s past experiences include coaching in Norway at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, coaching eight world hockey championships and 15 National championships across several countries.
Lynch most recently spent two seasons with Alberta’s Edson Aeros of the Western States Hockey League, winning two division titles before moving on to the Fort Frances Lakers.
Silander said there were no prior doubts or worries about Lynch going into the season but said now that the truth of his allegations has come out, past players of Lynch are coming forward, wishing that they had done something prior.
“When we did our hiring I spoke personally with the Edson Aeros where he used to coach and they never had any qualms at all about anything but it’s like any other job interview, when you go to it, you give your best references that are going to be good to you,” Silander said.
According to CBC, Lynch would call and email with alarming frequency, sending upwards of 50 messages in a day to the player while he was home for the holidays, that were all unsolicited and unwanted.
Ron MacKinnon has been interim head coach following Lynch’s suspension in January. MacKinnon said they were aware of the nature of the allegations against Lynch, but could not disclose what the allegations were while Hockey Canada was investigating. MacKinnon said he was sickened by what had been going on.
“I just hope it’s taken care of and that nothing like this happens again,” MacKinnon said. “As for the team, I just hope all the players that were affected are okay and going to be okay and I hope it doesn’t put a black mark on the Fort Frances Lakers. I’m glad it was caught early enough.”
Silander said they have been keeping in touch with the players who seem to be doing well but feel that something should have been done by now concerning Lynch. Silander said he thinks something will get done now but that it should have been done by Hockey Canada within the first month.
Silander said he does not know when he will hear back from Hockey Canada.
MacKinnon said the community has been very patient and he understands why the player’s parents felt that time was up and decided to go public with the story.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020/21 Fort Frances Lakers season was paused on Jan. 15, and the rest of the season was officially cancelled on March 1.
Natali Trivuncic, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times