Hockey Canada chief Bob Nicholson told a parliamentary committee Thursday that a racial slur was certainly uttered during a 2005 NHL game but said it was not Doan who uttered it.
He would not say which Phoenix Coyote actually called a linesman a “F-g Frenchman,” but suggested the player involved might not even have been a Canadian.
As for Doan, the head of Hockey Canada says he has known the star forward since he was a teenager and described him as gentle-hearted, devout Christian who doesn’t even swear.
“You should get to know Shane Doan,” Nicholson said.
“You can talk to all of his teammates that have played with him. He says ‘fudge,’ alot if he gets upset. He’s a Christian and a person that I am proud to know.”
The surreal spectacle of hockey officials being grilled by politicians played out in a stately chamber on Parliament Hill, beneath a solemn portrait of the Fathers of Confederation.
The potentially explosive mix of politics, hockey, and linguistic tension drew the attention of Ottawa’s most powerful figures.
The top official in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office – chief of staff Ian Brodie – arrived to monitor part of the proceedings and another PMO staffer sat through the 90-minute hearing.
Nicholson’s voice rose in anger after aggressive questions from a Bloc Quebecois MP, who said Doan should never have been made captain because of the controversy.
“So what you’re telling me is it’s okay to make racist insults in certain situations,” Bloc MP Luc Malo said after one hockey official pointed out that insults are part of the game.
Malo said Team Canada should have accepted Doan’s offer to step aside because of the controversy: “Why don’t you follow the logical suggestion of Mr. Doan himself and give the ‘C’ to someone else?”
The attack from the sovereigntist MP prompted Nicholson’s most spirited defence of a man he called a proud Canadian.
He said Doan has represented his country eight times, has the support of all his teammates, and has sacrificed part of his post-season family time to represent Canada for free.
“We’re taking Shane Doan, his wife, his mom and dad, his four kids through an allegation that could have been dictated by someone else,” Nicholson said.
“This is not right.”
Members of all political parties demanded to know why Doan was chosen captain in the face of accusations that it was he who uttered the slur at a French-Canadian linesman.
Doan says all he did was make a sarcastic remark to a teammate – Curtis Joseph – who was infuriated by a penalty call in a game against the Montreal Canadiens.
He says he told Joseph: “Four French referees in Montreal, Cuje, figure it out.”
The NHL has cleared Doan but just last month linesman Michel Cormier testified in a court hearing that he was skating right next to Doan when he heard the slur.
“There is no question those words were said on the ice,” Nicholson said.
“The National Hockey League’s investigation clearly shows that that was stated, but it also clearly shows that they felt that it wasn’t Shane Doan.
“That is why we are here today – to protect Shane Doan.”
Cormier’s post-game report does indeed accuse a foreign-born player – the Coyotes’ Ladislav Nagy – of having made the slur in the second period of the 2005 Phoenix-Montreal game.
Doan’s insult came at the end of the third period after the Coyotes bench had already been warned not to repeat any anti-French epithets, Cormier wrote at the time.
Rene Marcil of Hockey Canada said French Canada is well-represented in the organization. Nine francophone players were invited to join Team Canada in Russia but all declined, he said.
He called the controversy surrounding Doan’s appointment an unnecessary distraction to the national hockey team.
The Doan controversy was considered closed by the NHL, even though it remained the subject of two defamation suits involving the player and Liberal MP Denis Coderre.
It erupted again on Parliament Hill once Doan’s selection as captain rekindled the controversy in Quebec – $3 million of Hockey Canada’s $53-million operating budget comes from the federal government.
All parties are eager to gain support in the crucial electoral battleground of Quebec, where Doan has been vilified.
All 12 MPs on the Commons’ official languages committee – including five Conservatives – supported a Bloc motion to summon Hockey Canada officials for Thursday’s hearing.
The summons has triggered a flood of angry reaction from NHLers, sports commentators, callers to open-line radio shows, and even a new website: www.savedoan.ca.
By the time the committee sat down with Hockey Canada officials Thursday, the Conservatives were skating backwards in an effort to distance themselves from the affair.
“What the constituents in my riding are saying is they’d like to put the politicians in the penalty box, so Team Canada can put the puck in the net,” said Tory MP Pierre Poilievre.
Another Conservative – committee chair Guy Lauzon – cast the episode as an example of the Bloc Quebecois stirring up tension in their mission to break up Canada.
The hearing ended with news cameras and journalists chasing the Bloc MP, Malo, down the corridors of Parliament and asking him why people should be punished over unproven allegations.
“(Doan) was not the captain when these allegations were put forward,” Malo replied before charging through the throng in a futile escape attempt.
“The best choice for Hockey Canada was to name someone else until this issue comes to an end (in court).”
Nicholson said he was just eager to get on a plane back to Russia – where Team Canada was undefeated in three games.