, , , , ,

USA Hockey hired NHL goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck  as its  assistant director for hockey operations Wednesday, prompting outrage from some hockey fans who remember that he called Detroit Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley the N-word in 2003.

Pat Kelleher, USA Hockey’s executive director said  in a written statement that “We are beyond thrilled to have John join our staff.”

“Through his exceptional playing career, what he has done since retiring and his history with USA Hockey, John is well positioned to lead a very important part of our organization and I know he is excited to get started.”

Vanbiesbrouck, who had been serving as general manager of the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, said on the team’s website that he’s “humbled and honored” about taking a top position at the nation’s hockey governing body.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity USA Hockey has given me and the future of hockey in our country.”

He was hired to succeed Assistant Executive Director Jim Johannson, who passed away on Jan. 21 at the age of 53.

USA Hockey told me that the Daley incident “definitely was a topic of conversation in the interview process.”  An official said that the incident “was a mistake which John acknowledged, apologized for and in the end has been an isolated incident.”

The official said Vanbeisbrouck is “in lock step with USA Hockey’s way forward that hockey is for everyone.”

But many hockey fans blasted Vanbiesbrouck’s hiring on social media.

But the former goalie known as “Beezer” also had his supporters.

Vanbiesbrouck called Daley the N-word in 2003 in front of teammates when Daley was captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Vanbiesbrouck was the team’s coach and general manager.

The incident prompted the Ontario Hockey League to level its harshest fine ever – $50,000 – against the Greyhounds. Vanbiesbrouck resigned from his positions and sold his shares in the team.

“I think there was an understanding on our part that what occurred was damaging to us in terms of a league and what we try to be,” OHL Commissioner David Branch said in 2003. “We had to respond in a strong, clear fashion to make sure everyone understands we do not stand for this and this is not part of our value system.”

Vanbiesbrouck confirmed to The Toronto Star in 2003 that he used the slur against Daley and acknowledged he had used the N-word  “more than once.”

“My comments were inappropriate and out of character, and I deeply regret my actions,” Vanbiesbrouck said in 2003.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley.

The episode prompted Daley to temporarily quit the Greyhounds. He returned to the major junior team, saying “While I am deeply disturbed by the hurtful and careless comments that were directed at me, I am proud and honored to be a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.”

The incident didn’t hinder Daley’s hockey career. The Dallas Stars selected him in the second round of the 2002 NHL Draft – a year before the N-word incident. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion who has seen action for the Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Red Wings.

Ironically, the Greyhounds and the OHL found themselves dealing with another racial incident last month after Kitchener Rangers forward Givani Smith, who is black, received a death threat and was subjected to racial slurs via social media following the Rangers 4-3 win against the Soo.

A Michigan native, Vaniesbrouck played  parts of 20 NHL seasons backstopping the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

Embed from Getty Images

He’s a five-time NHL All-Star who won 374 games, the most by an American-born NHL goaltender. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender in 1986 as a member of the Rangers.

Vanbiesbrouck led the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.  He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.