“Not everybody’s like me,” Daniel Carcillo says. “This is my experience, in my own words.”
He says hold on, and tells his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Laila she can watch an episode of “Paw Patrol” after he puts his 14-month-old girl, Scarlett, down for a nap. He’s parenting solo while his wife is at work as an interior designer; his eldest son Austin, five, is in school. He’s managing.
Carcillo also has more than 300 emails detailing alleged abuses in hockey in his Twitter direct messages; they keep coming in. People want to tell him their stories. They want to tell their stories to the guy who was called Car Bomb, who was a maniac and a jerk and a hockey-sanctioned bad guy, because he has told some of his stories.
And because he has asked, what happened to you? Maybe people felt like nobody listened before.
“These people (in positions of power in hockey) have a huge reckoning coming,” Carcillo says, from his home in suburban Chicago. “And I’m getting to a point every day where it’s a good thing that all this abuse happened to me, and I can talk and tell my stories and take some small wins when other guys tell theirs.
“Because that’s the beginning of healing, when you actually tell someone your story. When you ask for help. And then you can start moving to a place of, what do I do now? How do I build myself back up, because I’ve unburdened myself, and the guilt isn’t there, and that’s where the healing starts. That’s why it’s important to get these stories, because there’s so much f—— more out there.”
Hockey’s reckoning — a rush of stories of racism, power-mad coaches and all kinds of abuse that are suddenly being heard — is still in its early stages. But as some smart people connected to the game have said, it could be similar to the #MeToo movement, in terms of a flood of long-ignored stories that are suddenly being heard. All this in a sport that combines a deified, high-pressure environment, an emphasis on the institution over the individual, a habit of protecting connected friends over principle, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, has a patriotism-tinged culture of silence.
So Carcillo has become the unlikely heretic in the church of hockey after his nine-year NHL career with Phoenix, Philadelphia, Chicago, the L.A. Kings, and the New York Rangers, plus time in the OHL in Sarnia and Mississauga, and stints in the AHL and ECHL. His klieg lights swing all over places left dark for so long, and it can be dizzying. He wants to help traumatic brain injury sufferers; Carcillo experienced several concussions, and was left with anxiety, depression, migraines, thoughts of suicide, and more. His friend Steve Montador died in 2015 and was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and that still hits Carcillo hard.
But he also wants to help victims of hazing, which he correctly calls sexual abuse; he experienced that too in Sarnia, at 16, and it brings out the anger as well. There is talk of a potential class-action lawsuit against Hockey Canada and the CHL.
“I’m not trying to be the hero,” Carcillo says. “I’m not trying to be your god. I’m not even trying to save hockey. I could give a f— about hockey. My goal is not to take over the NHLPA, my goal isn’t to get a job back in the NHL, my goal isn’t to go back to the CHL, my goal isn’t to come back to hockey. I’m done with that community, forever.”
“He seems more at ease with it,” says Brock McGillis, the first openly gay pro player in hockey and a thoughtful critic of hockey culture who has spoken with Carcillo on several occasions. “It’s a difficult position: All of a sudden, everyone hates you in the sport, the people you looked at as your people have turned their back on you, because you’re not toeing the line that’s been toed by the majority of the sport for so long. So I can get how it can become a little anxious and you just want to release everything. Especially when so many people are coming to you with their stories.”
Some people who have known Carcillo in hockey react with a visceral anger to what he’s doing. Distilled, it amounts to this: Who the hell does he think he is? He was, people say, one of the worst.
Carcillo agrees. He doesn’t really want to say it, because his parents might read this, but he wants to be honest.
“Write that,” he says. “If you’re going to write this stuff, I was an abuser, I was a bully, I was a racist, homophobic, piece of f—— s—.”
When he went to a 60-day rehab in Malibu for opioids at 25, after Flyers teammate Riley Cote stepped in and took him to a farm and introduced him to cannabidiol, or CBD — “he saved my life,” Carcillo says — he made a list of people of everyone he remembered wronging. It was, as he puts it, “f—— long, man.”
And he went about trying to apologize, ideally face to face or over the phone. He made more amends last summer, when he went public with stories of hazing in Sarnia under then-coach Jeff Perry.
“A lot of former teammates and people from high school, they were like, ‘Hey man, you were a pretty bad bully’,” Carcillo says. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I know, I’m not innocent, and I’m very f—— sorry.’ Stuff like keying my brother’s car. Just thinking of things I did to hurt people, in my family dynamic, and friends, and trying to make amends to a past ex-girlfriend because our relationship went to s— because of hockey and my mentality. Just people you hurt, man. You just look in the mirror and you think of the situations that you have guilt over, and then you go and make amends, as long as you don’t hurt that person. You clean up your side of the street.
“And if there’s more stories, tell your friends to contact me, so I can apologize. If I’ve wronged you, come forward, and if you want to do it in a public manner, no problem.”
The hardest apologies were to people like Wayne Simmonds and Anthony Stewart, for racist comments made on the ice. It’s murky exactly what he said. It was a long time ago.
Get more opinion in your inbox
Get the latest from your favourite Star columnists with our Opinion email newsletter.
“I had to, because I was working out with those guys at Biosteel (when he was 25), and I couldn’t look them in the f—— eye,” Carcillo says. “I grabbed them each, one by one, and I looked them in the eye and I apologized for what I said to them, and what I said around them.”
“We were 13-year-old kids, and I totally forgot about it, until he brought it up,” Stewart says. “I told him I’ve moved on, and we’ve been cool ever since. It was genuine.”
In a way, that’s what Carcillo wants from hockey: Say what you did, own it, apologize, make amends. He says, if Jeff Perry owned up and left hockey, do you think he would ever hear from Carcillo again? If the NHL came clean on the effects of concussions, would they hear from him? Hell no, he says. Absolutely not.
In a way, Carcillo is a story of generational trauma, in the same way hockey is, in the same way parenting can be. His parents in King City spanked their kids the way so many parents did. Ordinary stuff, he says. Normal.
“There were things that I experienced in my childhood,” he says, “and that’s why I turned to the game as an emotional release.”
And then came his life. Carcillo notes that the reason all this trauma is coming out in hockey is the coaches begat players who became coaches. They grew up in the eras where hockey was worse; when hazing was standard; when, as TSN’s Ray Ferraro has discussed, the culture was even more rigorously enforced. When Carcillo was an OHL newcomer in Sarnia, 16 years old and in a new town, the veterans would paddle the rookies every day in front of their lockers, bent over and pants down. They called it Munce time, because goaltender Ryan Munce didn’t drink at a team party once. They used one of his sticks.
“He was different and academic and shy,” Carcillo says. “That’s why. The reason you’re seeing all of this trauma come out is all of these guys played, like Ray Ferraro said, in the 1980s, when it was f—— brutal. And now what are they doing? They’re coaching, and they’re analysts. So it’s really hard to break the cycle of trauma, and luckily, I’ve been able to do that.”
That was just one of the abuses. There were more. Other teammates have talked about how it ruined them, emotionally.
Trauma begets trauma, until we see it and change. As Carcillo says of his childhood, “With me, it was old-school Italian parenting. That’s how you punish (kids), right? You don’t talk to them. And again, every parent was parenting that way, and every parent does the best that they can with the tools that they have. And that’s what my parents did. It was normal stuff, but I was really sensitive. They didn’t realize how sensitive I was. And I don’t think they realized how much it was hurting me. If I hit my kid, my kid is exactly like me. And I know that would destroy him.”
As a parent, he noticed Austin was mimicking his dad’s post-hockey symptoms: impulse control, anger, unnecessary frustration. He still has an impulse to snap at his kid when, as Carcillo puts it, “he’s doing something I deem as soft. That programming is still there, man.”
But he’s aware of it, and recognizes it, and stops himself. He’s not perfect. But he’s trying to be better.
“Thank god I woke up from that,” Carcillo says. “And I woke up from that by looking in the f—— mirror, something these coaches refuse to do.”
Daniel Carcillo was sensitive, and he was a bully. He wronged a lot of people, and wronged himself. And now, best as he can, he is trying to make amends. He is a hockey story. And he’s not the only one.