At age 10, Rocky Bhala is learning to stickhandle his way down the ice as he plays Canada’s game. He found himself in a much colder setting Thursday as he listened to a B.C. provincial court judge in North Vancouver sentence a man who last year said some offside comments to him after a playoff game.
“It scared me at the time,” said Rocky outside court. Bhala now plays on the Burnaby Winter Club’s Atom A1 team.
Rocky, his father, Ron Bhala, and relatives, along with other parents and kids from last year’s BWC Atom A3 team, took the day off to see the conclusion to what has been a dark day for hockey at the minor level.
Terry Mukhtiar Singh Litt, 57, pleaded guilty in court Thursday to uttering threats against the boy last February at Karen Magnussen Arena after his son’s Atom A3 playoff game.
His son, Jordan, had been the backup goalie for that evening’s playoff game that the team lost. Court heard that Litt told Bhala, “If you touch my son again, I’ll f—ing kill you.”
Before he was sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge by Provincial Court Judge John Milne, Litt apologized to Bhala and said it wasn’t becoming of a man his age.
“To Rocky and your family I’d like to apologize,” Litt said in a packed courtroom “I feel ashamed of my behaviour. It was really unbecoming. It is really out of character for me.”
Crown Counsel Snover Bains asked Milne to impose a yearlong conditional sentence. Milne noted Litt had no prior criminal record and the incident seemed to be isolated. “It was a parent who lost his cool in the change room,” he said. “He deeply regrets the incident and offers no excuses.”
Milne also said Litt has been taking anger-management courses and has been at the brunt of ridicule and contempt since the story made headlines last spring.
”It is a parent who lost his cool and had significant notoriety since then,” he said. Litt is to have no contact with Rocky or his family and is to report to a probation officer during his yearlong sentence that will be served in the community.
Len McNeely, manager of the Burnaby Winter Club, said Litt was suspended from the club the night of the dressing-room confrontation.
“We suspended Mr. Litt immediately and he hasn’t set foot in this club since,” he told The Province on Tuesday. “It is unfortunate. You wouldn’t expect this from anybody. It is unacceptable and we have an ongoing challenge for parents in all hockey to let the kids play hockey and enjoy it.”
McNeely said the Burnaby club has a player and parent code of conduct, but in this case it turned into a criminal matter.
Parent Paul Johansen said his son was in the dressing room sitting right beside the player who was verbally abused. “He was shaking and shivering after that,” he told The Province. “He looked to the coach and just got a grin.”
Johansen said he feels the coach, Mark Rademaker, should have intervened when the player was initially confronted by the parent: “Right away he should have stopped it … He should have sat down with the kids and said it isn’t right.”
At the end of the season Johansen said six families left the BWC. “The kids were really upset and had to see psychologists,” he said. Some of the players have provided the Crown with victim-impact statements.
BWC’s current president, Dan Melanson, was at court and was criticized by some of the hockey parents who attended the sentencing. The parents said the club failed to deal with the problem in a timely and effective manner.
“We have published and issued a memorandum of zero tolerance for unbecoming behaviour,” Melanson said outside court.
Ron Bhala said that despite his son playing hockey at the BWC he remains suspended from the club and can’t attend his son’s games. “I am suspended and I have no idea why,” he said.