Canadian hockey officials are probing the identity of a key figure behind efforts to unionize this country's junior hockey players.
Derek Clarke is the spokesman for the fledgling Canadian Hockey League Players Association that has made headlines advocating for the unionization of 1,300 young men in the Canadian Hockey League.
Although Clarke has been widely interviewed by media and spoken with hockey officials by phone, few have ever met the man in person.
His background and history seems largely a mystery.
One NHLer who has met Clarke is retired Montreal Canadiens forward George Laraque, the public face and executive director of the CHLPA.
Many in the hockey community believe Clarke in fact is Randy Gumbley, a former hockey coach convicted of two counts of fraud.
In an interview with TVA Sports reporter Stephane Gonzalez yesterday, Laraque in an on-camera interview identified a photograph of Gumbley as Derek Clarke. Then, in a subsequent interview denied the two were the same man.
Laraque told QMI Agency that Clarke “is from Alberta” and said “he is here with me in Montreal.”
When asked if he had ever met him, he said angrily "of course."
“I have eaten with him here in a restaurant.” He said. Clarke will appear on TSN Thursday to clarify.
As for Randy Gumbley, Laraque said "he has nothing to do with us" and "I have never met him.”
Cell phone calls to Clarke have not been returned and neither Clarke nor Gumbley could be reached for comment.
CHL President David Branch admitted the CHL is looking into Clarke’s identity.
“Our big issue involving Derek Clarke was determining who he was,” Branch said.
He said there has been “growing concern” over this mystery person no one from the CHL had met,” he said, and in the interest of the security of our players” they began to take a look into his background.
“I can tell you I had never met him and do not know anybody who ever has,” said Branch.
Branch said he had in recent times e-mailed executive director Georges Laraques about a potential meeting with the union but added “I don't know who you are,” meaning who was behind the union.
The Canadian Hockey League has retained a private investigator to determine Clarke’s identity, Branch said.
Mark Guy of Newport Sports Management and Paul Capizzano of MFIVE Sports Management — told QMI Agency's Terry Koshan that not only is Clarke an unknown, but those heading up the association barely have been in touch.“We’ve heard very little about anything,” Guy said.
Said Capizzano: “I don’t know who (Clarke) is. There has been no contact with us directly.”
The stated mission of the CHLPA is “To represent all CHL players in a manner that is fair and equitable, always keeping in mind the physical, mental, educational and financial well-being of each player now and in the future.”
Specifically, association proposals range from an educational bank account for junior players to compensation for the use of junior player images from video games.
Whether or not Gumbley is Clarke’s alter ego, the former hockey coach has also been no stranger to controversy.
Gumbley was found guilty in 2009 of defrauding a minor hockey league player of more than $5,000 in a phony hockey league scam.
Peel Regional Police Cst. Peter McLaughlin couldn’t say whether Gumbley was Clarke.
He did investigate Gumbley between 2007 and 2009, right up until Gumbley was found guilty of fraud.
"He defrauded a bunch of folks ... I remember him well," said McLaughlin, adding that Gumbley was originally charged with as many as 15 offences. "I laid 15 charges, he made restitution, pled (guilty) to two or three, did some community service, then shortly after that he tried to start up another hockey sort of thing."
"(Gumbley) has been doing this kind of stuff for years and years. He's been a good fraudster his whole life. It wouldn't come as a surprise that he would be getting involved in something else."
William Markle, the lawyer who defended Gumbley in one of two fraud cases, said he was “surprised” to hear Gumbley might be working for the CHLPA under the name Derek Clarke.
"I have no memory of Randy Gumbley being anything other than Randy Gumbley," Markle said.
Markle also said he, himself, had been approached to be involved with the fledgling CHLPA, but has yet to give the upstart players' association an answer.
Markle went on to call Gumbley "a very knowledgeable hockey guy, this part I can say ... He did run a successful junior franchise ... I can see a person like that, with his background, making some sort of contribution. Beyond that ... I don't know what job that he's doing.”
- Files by Terry Davidson