(Note: TheHockeyNews.com is attempting to contact all 14 additional players who recently filed affidavits in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in the proposed hazing/abuse class action lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League to allow them to tell their stories. The privacy of those who decline will be respected.)
During his rookie Ontario League season in 2002-03, Dan Fritsche knew the four-hour drive between Sarnia and Cleveland like the back of his hand. In fact, he’d happily make the trip every chance he got. In Cleveland, he had his birth family, where he could feel safe and accepted. In Sarnia, he had his hockey ‘family’, which did little more than heap constant abuse upon him.
“If we had a morning practice and the next day off, I would literally go from practice and make the four-hour drive to Cleveland and come back the next night,” Fritsche told TheHockeyNews.com. “Just to clear my mind. What kind of kid, what kind of hockey player, would rather stay at school than go to the rink? You did that because you didn’t want to have to deal with the bullsh–. It’s sad, even to this day it makes me sick to think about it.”
Dan Fritsche was a rookie on the infamous 2002-03 Sarnia Sting team that included Dan Carcillo, the lead plaintiff in a proposed class action hazing/abuse lawsuit against the CHL. Fritsche can back up Carcillo’s explosive claims of sexual abuse and humiliation because precisely the same thing happened to him. That’s why he was one of 14 former junior hockey players who filed affidavits with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice outlining the abuse he suffered in junior hockey.
Carcillo’s claims of abuse with Sarnia that season are well documented. They include being spat and urinated on in the shower, being beaten on the bare buttocks with the paddle of a goalie stick, enduring the ‘hot box’ on the bus where eight of them were crammed naked into the washroom, bobbing for apples in other players’ urine, sitting in a laundry bin and being run into a cement wall and, for one player, being strapped to the table and beaten with a belt by veterans and the head coach of the team.
To Fritsche’s credit, he did not allow the abuse to break him. Despite going home for a week to escape the abuse that season, Fritsche scored 32 goals and 71 points in 61 games and was drafted in the second round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He went on to win a gold medal with the U.S. World Junior team in 2004 in Helsinki and a Memorial Cup after being dealt to the London Knights in 2004-05. He played 256 games in the NHL and had career earnings of about $2.5 million, then went on to play in Switzerland for five more seasons. “I think the psychological effects of the hazing really affected my game,” Fritsche said in his affidavit. “I think it set (my) development back.”
These days, Fritsche doesn’t waste much time or energy dwelling on whether or not he would have had a longer NHL career if not for the abuse. He’s far too busy with his three boys – five-year-old twins and a nine-month old. The 35-year-old coaches his sons in hockey, is the president of the Cleveland Junior Jacks AAA organization and runs the D.F. Sports Novelty Company. But that doesn’t mean that he still doesn’t get angry about how he was treated in Sarnia.
The way Fritsche sees it, some athletes are blessed with an enormous amount of confidence from the time they first lace up skates. He was not one of those people. “I needed a coach who would instill confidence in me and in my game,” Fritsche said. “And instead of that, I went to the complete opposite atmosphere that I needed. I went to a completely toxic environment, a place that not only took all the confidence away from me, it made not even want to come to the rink. It made me fall out of love with the game for a short time. Would I have been a better hockey player (without the abuse)? I’m not going to dwell on it because it just makes me angry to think about it.”
The coach of the Sting at the time was Jeff Perry, who is still involved in hockey in Sarnia as the assistant coach of a Jr. C team in the area. Perry was ultimately fired by the Sting, but Fritsche crossed paths with him again when he was dealt to the London Knights, where Perry had landed as an assistant coach. (THN.com has attempted repeatedly to speak with Perry since the lawsuit was launched, but calls have not been returned.)
“I’m proud of my hockey career and I’m proud of what I did,” Fritsche said. “I’ve made some great memories and some great friends along the way. I’m not a person to dwell on things. I think once I got out of that atmosphere…I was able to just focus on hockey and play on a great team. That year we won the Memorial Cup reminded me how good the game can be and how it should be. The World Juniors and the Memorial Cup are some of the best memories I have as a hockey player.”