Hockey players crushed after trip turns to nightmare
Peel regional police are starting an investigation after 60 young hockey players paid $3,500 each to take part in a hockey tournament in Europe that went horribly wrong.
"If they've been taken advantage of, if they've been defrauded, then it's a loss of innocence for them," Sgt. Zahir Shah of Peel police said Tuesday about the players.
But an organizer said the players have nothing to complain about.
"In terms of what they were promised, in terms of the contracts they signed, pretty much everything was delivered," Victor Criscuolo told CTV Toronto on Tuesday evening.
He is listed as the contact person on the website of OCS Hockey, the group that offered the tours. It described him as the head coach and director of hockey operations.
Some players would beg to differ with Criscuolo's assessment.
"I was excited, because it's always been my dream to play professional hockey," Jordan Lass told reporters at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Tuesday after returning from France.
"And once we got there and found out we wouldn't be playing, I can't even explain how disappointed I was."
Brandon Steplock concurred, saying: "I was hoping to play hockey, hoping to get scouted. The fact we got nothing out of it -- it's kind of a letdown, kind of upsetting."
The players claim they had been contacted by an organization called Ontario Central Scouting. They say they were told they had been picked to play in a special international hockey tournament in France -- but they had to pay $3,500 each for the opportunity.
The OCS website gave the price as US$1,999 for Toronto departures. The package was to include airfare, accommodations, breakfast and "four games guaranteed," according to the website.
It also included this fine print: "Games and locations subject to change without notice."
The players were to depart on Aug. 3, with the tournament to run from Aug. 6-9. They were to return on Monday, according to the website.
Pro scouts would be there to watch them, and there would be the possibility that they could land deals to play professionally in Europe for periods of one to four years, they claim.
Upon arrival in Paris, however, there was no tournament with foreign teams.
Ryan Golow came up with the $3,500 after getting an inheritance from his grandmother. "It's down the tube like that. It's just a waste, and it's sad," he said.
Carol Golow, his mother, added: "He just kept saying, 'I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry,' because he felt so bad. And it isn't his fault."
Julie Lass said she's never heard her 18-year-old son so down in the dumps. "He's just a sad boy right now."
The OCS Hockey website doesn't list any physical address. By Tuesday evening, it had been taken offline.
This spring, the Dixie Beehives, an Etobicoke-based team, hired Criscuolo as a coach. Louie Gialedakis, the head coach and general manager, told ctvtoronto.ca that Criscuolo had a combined 14 years experience in minor and junior hockey.
He considered Criscuolo to be one of the good guys in minor hockey.
Gialedakis said he didn't know anything about OCS. "I found out about it a couple hours ago, and I phoned Vic and he called me back," he said.
Criscuolo told him they went on a similar trip in late spring and it went really well, he said.
"According to Vic, the International Hockey Federation didn't allow the French national teams to play exhibition games against non-sanctioned teams, or something to that effect. And the kids were not allowed to play games. They had to play intrasquad games," Gialedakis said.
A total of 90 players went. "According to Vic, the majority of them had a great time. The only thing that wasn't positive was the hockey," he said.
Player Steven Rigutto, reached in France by CTV.ca via Facebook, said they didn't play against the European teams that had been promised, but did play shinny against the other OCS teams.
Criscuolo showed CTV Toronto the contracts signed and said it only promised four games.
Asked why the players would want to spend $3,500 to go to France to play each other, he nodded and said: "You're absolutely right. This is where my frustration sets in a bit as well. Again, we had no idea this was going to happen when we got there."
With reports from CTV Toronto's Galit Solomon, Janice Golding and files from CTV.ca's Josh Visser