The WHL, under present leadership, has never been one to seem overly concerned with optics.
On the terribly serious issue of concussions, the WHL office continually maintains that the numbers are coming down. But there never are any numbers forthcoming, so who knows what really is happening.
In November 2012, the WHL chose to discipline the Portland Winterhawks for some indiscretions. The WHL, however, chose not to go into details and was left with egg all over its face when the Winterhawks spilled the beans.
More recently, the WHL did nothing to discipline the Edmonton Oil Kings after they iced a less-than-full-strength roster for the final game of the regular season against the visiting Red Deer Rebels The Rebels needed to win to force a play-in game against the Prince Albert Raiders. The Rebels, faced with an Oil Kings team that was a shadow of its real self, won, 5-0. The league fiddled.
And now we have the situation involving Kootenay Ice F Tim Bozon, who was discharged from Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon on Friday after spending a month there battling Neisseria meningitis.
Bozon was diagnosed on March 1, less than 24 hours after playing, and scoring a goal, in a 4-2 victory over the host Saskatoon Blades. Once diagnosed, he was placed in a medically induced coma as doctors fought to slow the advancing meningitis.
His parents, Helene and Philippe, arrived in Saskatoon from their home in France on March 2 and were with their son throughout this ordeal. They were in Cranbrook on Saturday, where Tim was reunited with his teammates and took part in a ceremonial faceoff prior to a playoff game. On Tuesday, they were scheduled to fly to Montreal.
Tim was a third-round selection by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2012 NHL draft, while he was a member of the Kamloops Blazers. The Canadiens want their medical staff to check him over, and he also is in need of some dental work, something left over from one of his last games with the Ice.
After that, the Bozons will return to France, where Tim is scheduled to begin a rehabilitation program. At this moment, however, his hockey-playing future would seem to be up in the air.
Which brings us to WHL commissioner Rob Robison, who appeared on The Afternoon Edition, a CBC Radio program out of Regina, on Monday evening.
By the time Bozon is finished with rehab, his family is going to be looking at bills that are expected to run well into six figures, perhaps as much as $250,000, or more.
When questioned by host Craig Lederhouse on Monday, Robison admitted that expenses are expected “to exceed the limits of the (insurance) policy by at least $100,000. The costs will be significant.”
That insurance policy expired on March 13. It was a healthcare policy, one that a WHL team will take out on behalf of a European player. However, there is no standardization in terms of coverage. In this case, the policy for Bozon won’t come close to covering the expenses.
There also are other expenses, like flights and general living expenses that have been incurred by the Bozon family over the past month.
For the sake of the WHL, Robison needed to stand up Monday and offer the Bozons a guarantee that everything will be covered, that the family won’t be out of pocket for even one penny.
No, Tim Bozon didn’t suffer a hockey-related injury. But he contracted a devastating illness while in the employ of a WHL team. This happened during the season. It happened on a road trip. That should be enough to ensure that the family won’t be out of pocket.
On Monday, Robison talked a lot about offering assistance to the Bozons and looking for assistance for the Bozon family and working to provide support and assistance to the Bozon family.
What he didn’t say is that everything will be looked after.
At one point, Robison was asked who should be responsible for paying the costs. Instead of offering up a guarantee that all will be looked after, Robison tap-danced and, in fact, seemed to place the onus squarely on the Bozon family.
“In this particular case,” Robison said, “we all assume some responsibility. Ultimately, in any medical situation, the family or the individual is responsible. In this particular case, the question is: This occurred during the course of the hockey season and should the hockey associations and so forth have responsibilities?
“We are not at this stage looking at this as a Bozon obligation . . . we’re looking to find ways in which we can help the family offset these costs.”
Sort through all of the commissioner’s answers and you won’t find anything in the way of reassurance for the Bozon family that its finances won’t take a hit because of this situation.
A family in Europe watches as a son and a brother journeys to North America to play for a team that operates under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League. The next thing the parents know, they are being summoned to this side of the Atlantic Ocean because their son is desperately ill. Upon arrival, they are asked to sign a waiver that will allow doctors to open their son’s skull to relieve pressure on his brain.
Later, they will bring their son home, but he will be a mere shell of the young man who left home for a third WHL season.
You have to wonder how many parents of present-day and potential WHL players are watching and wondering. There but for the grace of God and all that.
Look, this is new ground for the WHL and its teams, and there isn’t anything in its bylaws or anywhere else telling them how to deal with this situation.
But it is time for the WHL to make this right. If that means each team throws $10,000 or more into the kitty, so be it.
Because it’s the right thing to do.
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