Does Elitism in hockey lead to Hazing and Bullying?

Part two on the state of youth hockey in Canada.

In part one of the series, we looked at the emergence of the Hockey Academy in Canada. Read: Hockey Academies: Friend or Foe? In this piece, we examine the elitism that comes with the territory. Do Hockey Academies and provincial programs (Example: BC Hockey’s Team BC) encourage a sense of elitism and entitlement for youth hockey players?

This article explores the idea that hockey has become an elitist activity. The article states:

“Hockey has become an increasingly elitist activity. For a family to send their kid to an academy like the Canadian International Hockey Academy – the type of program attended by Connor McDavid and 11 other members of the 2015 world junior team – it would run them about $53,000 for a year’s tuition. Kids are being groomed all across the country to become hockey players in hockey academies and power camps.”

It is true, youth hockey has become a business. The Hockey Academy has emerged as a “must do” if you are going to be an NHL hockey player (less than 0.001% of all youth players will make the NHL). Couple that with the turmoil that is Hockey Canada and the creation of makeshift Super-leagues, hockey is not just about the love of the game anymore. There’s a sense of elitism and entitlement that places the next generation of hockey kids and hockey parents at risk. So much so that the governing bodies across the country are looking to change the culture of hockey, and it’s about time.

There are a lot of issues with grass roots hockey these days. Expense, movement away from minor hockey associations and the emergence of pay-to-play academies. Look further and you will see that it has been a tough go for some hockey programs lately hasn’t it? Hockey Canada is not in a good place right now. Case in point:

  • In 2022, it was reported that Hockey Canada—the governing body for the sport of ice hockey in Canada—had paid a settlement using minor hockey league fees to a woman who alleged that she was the victim of a sexual assault perpetrated in 2018 by members of Canada’s men’s national junior team.
  • Halifax Regional Police investigate allegations of a group sexual assault from 2003. The alleged incident happened when Team Canada was in Halifax for the finals at the World Junior Championships in 2003.
  • Various investigations of incidents of players being charged with sexual assault and that a culture of “sexual entitlement” and alcohol abuse existed in men’s hockey programs
  • Various investigations into alleged hazing incidents including as recent as November 2023 with an alleged incident with a notable Hockey Academy in BC (still being investigated by the RCMP).
  • Ex-NHL players with lawsuits against major junior programs

There are a lot of issues with the sport right now.

Hockey Canada, and maybe even more so hockey in general, needs to re-evaluate the type of people that are in positions of power at all levels of the game. The sense of entitlement and elitism that young players are exhibiting seems to be at an all-time high. Oddly enough with the addition of all of these “hockey schools” and upstart hockey programs, kids are put in environments that they may not be equipped to deal with. If you think about it, it takes a lot of trust for a parent to put their son or daughter at age 12 or 13 or 14 in the type of Academy-like environments that parents are placing their kids into. These athletes are going on the bus trips without their parents, they are rooming with their teammates at early ages like they are bonafide NHLers. Making boys into men? Prepping them for “The Show”? Hardly.

While these hockey schools have academic schooling as part of the offering, the focus is not on education. Add to it the the promotion of the group-like mentality, the education piece in not the highlight for the participants. Furthermore, we all know how “crazy” kids can be when you get a bunch of them together. These kids are often left to their own devices or team clique and many are not mature enough to handle it. Now we’d be remiss not to mention that this is not true with all hockey academies, but the number of stories I have heard this season alone about what goes on, on the road, with these young kids makes me cringe.

The volume of stories about bullying and hazing in the sport of hockey are on the rise. We have all heard stories of the odd hazing incident, but the number of these “incidents” that are “swept under the rug” are many. Herein lies part of this elitist and entitled mentality. This stuff happens all of the time and nobody talks about it… until recently. Part of the reason is we just never heard about it before, but in the age of TikTok, Google and SnapChat, the world is always on 24/7. It’s become harder to conceal these incidents.

Add to it the various sexual assault scandals that have come to light and you begin to question just how well are these hockey academies teaching these “elite” athletes to become good people? It’s not just academies, this stuff happens in minor hockey associations as well.

There is good reason to believe that hockey in Canada has become dangerously elitist. With being an elitist or entitled person sometimes comes other behaviours. There is a certain feeling of invincibility that comes with this. Let’s look at this idea of an elitist. An elitist is a person who regards themselves above others; they deem themselves better than others. This can lead to that sense of entitlement or to even worse behaviour. Take bullying and hazing for example. It has been stated that one of the reasons people bully is because they want to dominate others and improve their social status. You could argue that one of the reasons players attend prestigious hockey programs (nee Academy) is to dominate other players and improve their game to become… you guessed it an elite player. However, being an elite player does not make you an elite person. It can however make you an elitist.

Visit any hockey academy website and you will no doubt find use of the word “elite”. This idea of “elite” is an interesting concept. For a number of people, elite has often been associated with wealth. What many Hockey Academies are communicating is that to be “good” not only do you have to put the time in, but you have to have the funds to get there. Tuitions of upwards of thirty, forty and fifty thousand are common with these so called “top” hockey academies. Yet not all “elite” hockey players can afford these academies. All the best players play in hockey academies don’t they? That couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, as much as these hockey programs suggest this and want you to believe it, not all of the best players are in academies.

The problem is that this is what these academies want you to believe. When our family declined to play at a local Hockey Academy, one of the first things we were told is that “well you won’t get eyes on your son.” Our reaction was “ok so what?” but for other families, it is this “fear of missing out” or this thought that if little Johnny goes to all of these Showcases, he will get eyes on him. Unfortunately this is true. However, while it’s true that they get eyes on the players, through showcases and invite-only tournaments (a perfect example of exclusion and elitist activity) the top players are not always present at the Showcases (but don’t mention this to the various scouts that are there). The academies prey on the fear of missing out, the fear of not being seen. What they fail to realize is that not every player has the same endgame (elite or not).

Then there is this sense of entitlement. The thought that I am an elite hockey player so I should be exempt from being a respectful person, or from having to partake in the worst ice times, or from having to try out for top teams,  from going to school, from being accountable for my actions. There is this sense of entitlement that has emerged as a result. In today’s society there is a feeling that the younger generation has this sense of entitlement. That sense of entitlement is also present in youth hockey. It’s a complex issue.

Getting back to hazing and bullying in hockey. Now it’s just not Hockey Canada, as there have been hazing  and bulleying reports from non-sanctioned leagues leading to a disturbing trend in the sport of hockey. Well known hockey school, St. Michael’s College has had it fair share of alleged sexual assault scandals involving athletes. Hazing happens in men’s and women’s hockey, that is a fact.

Hazing in Hockey

For anyone who has played competitive hockey, hazing has been around for decades. Hall of Fame goaltender and heralded author Ken Dryden has referenced this in this legendary hockey book The Game. Kudos to Mr. Dryden for talking about this as the hockey fraternity typically likes to sweep this stuff under the rug. (Read: Hazing’s Culture of Silence)

What is hazing?

Hazing typically involves incidents where the veteran players on the team perform some sort of initiation-type activity to the rookies of the team. Quite often in a humiliating manner. Examples of hazing are vast and often include some type of sexual related activity. For those not aware, examples of hazing activities include:

  • Being beaten or paddled with a hockey stick
  • Shaving of private parts
  • “Shower Trains” where rookies are forced to grab others private parts or are forced to sit on the floor in the shower as veterans urinate or spit chewing tobacco on or near them.
  • Bobbing for apples in a cooler or tub consisting of garbage, partially eaten food, urine or spit
  • Using their mouth to grab marshmallows from a teammate’s buttocks
  • Being forced to eat or drink disgusting substances or concoctions.
  • Pucks or bottles being tied to genitalia
  • Public nudity
  • Public humiliation

Hazing seems to have always been around (which never makes it right) and often it seems like there is a need to one up the teams ‘hazing efforts’ from previous years when it comes to initiation rituals. The organization and teams do their best to keep this stuff quiet, but in the Digital Age there are examples, after example, after example, after example, after example, after example, after example of hazing and bullying incidents.

Even worse is that code of silence. It is a pretty sad state of affairs when players, parents or alleged victims are enticed not to come forward with their accounts. The Code of Silence is another thing that needs to be changed in hockey. Here is an example. Parents of a player who was allegedly bullyed on his Academy hockey team, have taken a legal course of action to sue the Academy. The parents were considering pulling their son out of the school when they met with the hockey director at the school:

“But the hockey director said he has a good chance he might get drafted to the [Ontario Hockey League]. He would like to work with [him] for another year,” the father said. “I guess that was enticement for us to reconsider as a family.”

This is typical behavior. It is no secret that various Hockey Academy’s and “elite” Hockey programs prey on the fear of missing out or of not being drafted or the guilt of pulling their child out of the program. It’s a formula that has been used for years. It indirectly ties into that old code of silence. The threat of missing out often translates to that idea of see no evil, hear no evil, do no evil. The business of hockey has forced families into an environment that can be questionable at best. Selling the dream of making it to “The Show” is a drink best served on ice isn’t it? The odds are stacked against the average player. Trust the process they say. This unspoken of “code of silence” is just another example of elitist activity.

Common sense suggests that there is no place for hazing in hockey or in any environment. Yet why don’t players or potential victims speak up more often? One reason is that society has changed and the idea of being labelled a “snowflake” or being an outsider often causes people to remain silent. Not to mention speaking out about an initiation or hazing issue is embarrassing and has been perceived as a sign of weakness. The notion that it (bullying or hazing) is just something that happens is another aspect that needs to change. Talk to old school players about initiation practices and they’ll tell you “oh we all went through it…”. The fact is, it takes a lot of courage to stand up and voice your concerns over your teammates’ actions. It can be difficult for victims of these events to come forward. As a result there can be a lack of accountability. This lack of accountability is another piece of the toxic hockey culture that needs to change.

This “toxic hockey culture” does needs to change and perhaps that starts with dialing in the sense of entitlement and elitism that the sport has created.


In fairness, most leagues such as the OHL for example, has a number of policies and positions as part of their Health & Welfare Policies and Procedures including:

  • The Harassment & Abuse/Diversity Policy
  • Director of Cultural Diversity and Inclusion
  • OHL’s Hazing Policy and Acknowledgment Form – that each player must sign during orientation. The Hazing Policy differentiates team bonding from hazing, defines “hazing”, and states that hazing is not tolerated in the OHL
  • A minimum Five-game suspension for bullying

But make no mistake about it, just because your have policies and procedures in place, doesn;t mean that this stuff doesn’t or won’t happen. When it comes to this toxic culture of hockey, the question becomes what is the solution? When it comes to this idea of elitism, entitlement and bullying in hockey, what needs to be done?

Accountability – hockey programs and people in the position of power need to be held accountable. While you can say you have 0% tolerance for hazing and bullying you have to have a 0% policy for hazing and bullying. These actions and behaviours cannot be tolerated at all. If you say you are going to help mold great people then do that (even if it is at the expense of the skillset… hockey in this case). Own your shit.

Have a desire to Change – change is hard. However, it is necessary if you want to grow. The whole idea that your program is for “elite” athletes needs to change. This idea of promoting the philosophy that elite hockey players have some sort of sense of invincibility needs to change. These programs need to be better plain and simple. You have to want to change in order to change. For many people in power they simply do not want to change. That old boys club mentality is still there.

Check your egos – This goes for the players, the coaches, the mentors, the evaluators, the Directors of the hockey programs and all involved. This idea that Academy players are the “elite players” is inherently flawed. Hockey is a team sport. Success in any walk of life means yes putting the time in, but it also means being a team player and surrounding yourself with good people. In this terrific article about hockey and the toxic culture it breeds, it mentions:

“Part of this comes from the selection process for hockey teams. My connection said that the recruiters often “overlook your attitude as long as it’s compensated by performance.” By valuing a person based solely on their ability to benefit the team on ice, it reinforces the idea that a person’s attitude and actions off the ice have no impact on their career.”

This is 100% accurate. Here is a real life example based on parent and player feedback and my own observation. At a BC Hockey Program of Excellence Camp held in the Spring of 2024, coaches for each of the eight teams were selected from local Hockey Academy and AAA hockey programs. The player selection process saw players from these academies play on teams with coaches from their program. (conflict of interest? Most definitely). Evaluators were from these same academies and programs. (They were referred to as “volunteers”). In the event that you were not playing at this academy/program you were overlooked. (Read the information packages on the website and you get a sense that these camps are not as inclusive as you would think. They are tailored for the players in Academies. As such. players from the academies were given more ice time, played their rightful positions, played together with their regular season line-mates and were not forced into situations where they had to prove themselves (which is what you would expect in a tryout setting). Simply put, the Academies set their own players up for success. Nearly all of these players got put through to the next stage of the tryout process. (Including players, that upon observation from many did not play well). There were non-academy players that heavily outplayed academy players.

Off the ice a number (not all) of these “Academy” kids were extremely disrespectful to their teammates, their opposition and the officials, yet made it through the next stage of BC Hockey tryouts. (Remind us again how these Hockey Academies are creating great human beings?) Overhead, were racial slurs, taunts and verbal bullying. Yet these “elite Academy players” were put though to the next stage. Entitlement? Definitely. Elitist attitude most definitely. Participants in a toxic hockey culture? Yes. It all feeds the machine though right? It wouldn’t look good if a large number of non-academy players made it through the tryout process would it? How would they recruit players at those high price points. The business of hockey is alive and well.

For other players, the perception of their skill or the value to a Team BC was overlooked. If you know, you know. It’s that “gang mentality”, I coached at <insert Academy Name here>, I played at <insert Academy name here>, I scouted for <insert Academy name here> therefore we are the “best”. End result, if you’re not in, you’re not in. No accountability for poor decision making, poor team selection, poor player management or poor player assessment. I overheard some parents suggest that the vast majority of players moving forward were pre-selected. This fact is further backed up when a young goaltender was released prior to even having a chance to play in a game. How do you assess a player if he/she doesn’t play? It becomes hard to foster change in the culture when there is no accountability or responsibility. For these hockey academies, it’s all about selling the dream. If you pay, you will play (or maybe you won’t). Again, that elitism thing comes into play.

The culture needs to be better. The “old boys club” needs to be disassembled. The old formula just doesn’t work anymore.

The only way change is going to happen is through education, conversation, and through leadership that will enable all players to be set up for success.

Hockey Canada has undergone a leadership overhaul over the past eighteen months. That’s a start. In September of 2023, there was a Hockey Canada summit in Calgary with the focus of tackling the toxic masculinity as root problem in the sport’s culture. As Sheldon Kennedy mentioned “The biggest thing is the acceptance of the fact that we have a problem and we need to deal with it.”

There’s no more time than the present to advocate and make changes to the culture of hockey.

Related Readings / Resources

Changing toxic hockey culture through leadership, dedication, and conversation

Hockey plagued by elitism, lack of diversity

Toxic Hockey Culture

 Players know hockey culture is considered toxic. Here’s how some are making it better

Bryce Salvador on battling the ‘toxic environment’ of youth hockey

Participation vs Elitism

How to Avoid Creating Entitlement Monsters – Bullying, Trash Talk, Elitisim, and Other Associated Sports Ills