Mantha in a haze?

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:06 AM ET

News conferences aren't what they used to be.

Yesterday, high-powered lawyer Brian Greenspan, whose clients have included some of the most notable members of the criminal set, called a news conference to announce that his client, Moe Mantha, wouldn't be suing anyone.

That anyone would be Windsor Spitfires owner Steve Riolo.

Mantha insisted, through Greenspan, that he had no knowledge of the so-called "hot house" hazing incident that brought a firestorm down on him and that, by the way, Riolo himself was sitting beside Mantha when a handful of rookies were stripped and shoved into the tight confines of a bus commode on Sept. 9.

One rookie, 6-foot-3, 210-pound Akim Aliu, refused and set off a chain reaction. Nineteen days after the incident, captain Steve Downie twice fought Aliu. Mantha didn't learn of the incident in the interim. He missed the first fight and cautiously broke up the second.

The fights brought the hazing story into the open. Downie, a candidate for the world junior team, was suspended for five games by the OHL and subsequently shipped to the Peterborough Petes. Aliu came home to Toronto and is hoping for a trade in the new year.

Mantha, an NHL veteran who signed on this year as the Spitfires' coach and general manager, was hit with a 40-game suspension by the Ontario Hockey League. He was to have been allowed back on the ice Saturday to begin running practices.

Instead, Riolo fired Mantha on Friday, saying, "We brought in Moe Mantha, being a 14-year player in the National Hockey League, to be a mentor. In certain incidents I'm not going to release, (he wasn't)."

That in turn generated the threat of a libel suit. Thankfully, an amicable agreement was reached whereby everyone wishes the very best for everyone. Mantha will be paid an undisclosed portion of his salary.

Mantha speaks hopefully of getting back into hockey once his suspension ends. He says he doesn't understand why the kids on the back of the bus did what they did.

"I don't know that answer. Honest to God. I don't know what to say. I'm sorry."

Had word reached the front of the bus, "I would have flown out of my seat and flown right to the back and put a friggin' stop to it right away," Mantha said.

I don't know if Moe Mantha would have put a friggin' stop to it right away but I think a coach in tune with his dressing room would have noticed something between the original incident and the 19 days that passed before the fights.

There are no criminal charges here and that's a shame because what happened to those kids on the back of the bus was assault.

The real hot house isn't the stinky toilet, but the culture of the game itself.

Initiation, in the closed, musty culture of hockey, isn't about bonding but about sexual degradation. It's all sexual, the nudity, the genital shaving and in the worst cases, the sodomy.

It's about tying the poor victim to the group through fear of being outed over an act they were forced to undertake.

It is the horrific underside of the game and as nice as the OHL's tough sanction is, this story needs some law, some cops and some courtrooms.

It's the job of the state to break child porn rings. It's the job of the state to fight the sex slave trade. And it's the job of the state to make sure that parents who entrust their kids to the junior hockey system hand over those kids to adults with ample incentive to notice a hell of a lot more than did Moe Mantha.


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