By Grant Fleming
STRATFORD, ONTARIO – The new head coach for a junior hockey team caught in a scandal won’t say if he knew that a sexual predator had been playing for his team.
Tyler Canal, the head coach for the Stratford Cullitons, had little time for a reporter who approached him after his team’s practice today, saying, “I have other things to worry about.”
Canal said his focus was on winning a hockey game, and not on a scandal involving one of his former players, Mitch Vandergunst.
In July 2013, Mitch Vandergunst, of Exeter, Ontario, was charged with two counts of sexually assaulting a young woman. The incidents happened in South Huron, Ontario.
The woman’s identity is protected by a court-imposed publication ban.
On October 3, 2014, Vandergunst, who was 18 years old when he assaulted the woman, was convicted on both counts. The judge described his crime as “predatory in nature.”
On February 4, 2015, Vandergunst was sentenced to one year in jail plus two years of probation. He is appealing the decision.
Canal’s predecessor, Phil Westman, was forced to resign the same day Vandergunst was dismissed.
On Friday, Westman told a reporter who came to his home that he “got put in a very, very bad position. “ He wouldn’t elaborate.
The team’s president and mayor of Stratford, Don Mathieson, told reporters in early February that Westman was the only team official who knew about Vandergunst’s criminal charges and conviction.
Canal, who was promoted to the top job that same week, started working for the Cullitons in 2011. He was an assistant coach before being hired as head coach.
When the reporter approached Canal after a team practice today to ask if he had concerns about Vandergunst being allowed to play, he refused to answer the question.
The reporter didn’t get any further with other questions. Canal was asked if he had an obligation to report what he may have known about Vandergunst case.
“That’s already been dealt with,” Canal said. He refused to elaborate.
When asked if the team’s president, Dan Mathieson, told him to remain quiet, Canal replied, “Yep.”
Canal then drove away from the rink but returned to parking lot a few minutes later. He circled the reporter’s car before stopping 10 meters away. He pulled away when the reporter walked over to ask if he had anything else to say.
Canal, a former player with the Cullitons, works as a financial adviser for a prestigious firm in Stratford. The Cullitons’ website lists him as having a wife and daughter.
Mathieson announced at a news conference last month that neither he nor any of his fellow board executives and directors for the community-owned Cullitons knew about the Vandergunst case.
Earlier today, Mathieson called this reporter to announce that he was backing out of an interview he agreed to do.
In addition to being the head of the Cullitons, Mathieson is the mayor of Stratford. He was running for re-election last fall while Vandergunst’s criminal case was before the court. He won handily.
The vice president of the Cullitons, Jerry McEwin, is the retired police chief for the city of Stratford. He hasn’t responded to a request for an interview.
Mike Robinson is the team’s advisor in charge of making sure that players, coaches and officials comply with a code of conduct mandated by the league. He’s also a police officer in Stratford. He hasn’t responded to repeated requests for an interview.