Awhile back, we shared the story of Jacob Trouba, the Kitchener Rangers, and the University of Michigan. He had committed to the latter, but the Rangers allegedly offered him the tidy sum of $200,000 to drop the University deal and come play for them.

This isn’t unheard of, but it’s rare to pin an exact player, team, and dollar amount to the situation.

This was done by Matt Slovin, a student-reporter in Michigan Daily.com.

The parents of Trouba immediately denied they had been offered money, Trouba reiterated that he was going to be going to Michigan, and the Kitchener Rangers got pissed at the bad press.

Stating that it was patently untrue, they threatened a lawsuit against the student-paper if the story wasn’t taken down immediately, and a formal apology issued.

The story is still there.

And so, it’s official – the Kitchener Rangers are suing the paper for…

As bad as it looks suing a student-paper, if the story really is untrue, then, well, libel is libel.

As Kitchener’s CEO Steve Bienkowski put it:

“It’s not a threat anymore. We served the newspaper and the writer there to either back it up or retract it.”

My hunch: the story is not untrue. I’ve heard of these offers happening in the past. But then, we don’t want to get sued either, so NEVERMIND.

Bienkowski did make one really good point in their defence about the alleged offer – from the Guelph Mercury:

Bienkowski vehemently denied the claims made by the Daily and said he couldn’t hide that kind of a transaction, even if he wanted to.

“We present our audited financial statements every year,” he said. “We don’t have subsidiary companies or other businesses.”

That would be a tough one to bury.

Whether they should be allowed to offer big money for kids to play is a whole other issue. For now, we’ll just leave it right here – an OHL team is suing a student-newspaper for a million dollars, and that right there is bonkers. Everybody calllllm down.

Comments (14)

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong – the story simply states the offer was made, not that the transaction took place, right? If so, Bienkowski’s assertation about not being able to hide that kind of transaction is borderline irrelevant because the story never claimed that the payment was made. No payment made = no transaction to hide.

    • It is irrelevant to the case itself. He’s going to argue he never made such an offer. He is trying to see what sort of information the report has to back it up. I would think the source is pretty sensitive, thus the paper being hesitant to reveal it. Assuming there is a source.

      I think the point he was trying to make is that he does not pay players these sorts of bonuses. The implication is that if he makes this offer to one kid, every time we see a player break an NCAA commitment and go to the OHL, it’s often accompanied by a rather large check from an unknown donor to the player.

  2. The NCAA – CHL shooting war begins. I feel bad for the writer. “What, you don’t have enough student loans? Here, owe us a cool million dollar check, plus lawyer fees.” Kid is stuck in the middle of a battle much larger than himself. Michigan has seen a lot of commitments yanked out from underneath them by OHL teams in particular, if I were them, I would be pretty sick of it, too, particularly if it’s relatively well known fact that unethical activity is taking place.

  3. Bienkowski’s being a little disingenuous saying he couldn’t hide a transaction like that. It’s not hard at all — do it the same way crooked NCAA football or basketball programs do: someone else makes the payment. In the NCAA it’s alumni/boosters. In the OHL, maybe it’s a local business that just happens to get top notch advertising space and four tickets on the glass all for free “as a recognition of their proud support over the years.”

    No idea what’s going on in this particular situation, obviously, but a crooked team could certainly pull it off.

    • Guarantee the story was untrue. Rangers are community owned and operated, something like this would have needed some sort of approval from the board, which would have been impossible to hide. Not sure why the million dollar suit though, unless they actually expect to get it, which is highly unlikely.

      • Eveyrone is assuming the cash comes directing through the Rangers coffers. Community sponsors???? Companies with deep pockets that want the team to do well to maximize their sponsorship of the team?.. What is to stop them from paying on the side?? Nothing, because I know for a fact this has happened out west before at the Junior A level.. just not for as many zeros but the same intent.

        And it gives the Rangers deniability ofificially and on the books.

        • Maybe but not likely since the money is still traceable. If it wasn’t baseless, then why the suit? Someone will come forward with the truth, now that there is a lawsuit. Unlikely the team would go through with this lawsuit even if there was a smidgen of truth. Also the Aud is undergoing major renovations, with about $10 million borrowed from the city of Kitchener, so this would risk future agreements. Most likely the reporter heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy who heard it from some guy who knows someone who works for the Rangers who told him about this story, in other words, fabricated. Always vet your source, and confirm information before publishing. I don’t understand though why the article just isn’t deleted. As it stands, both the Rangers and Jacobs family deny anything was ever offered.

          • Jeff you are much closer to this situation than I am so I will defer to your knowledge. But I do have one question. How would this money still be tracable through the Rangers if a sponsor cuts a cheque to the kid directly or through some other intermediary??

          • I will throw thus out. The Rangers borrowed almost $10 million from the city to expand the Aud, interest free I believe, and the Aud still belongs to the city 100%. Let’s say they had in that loan $500,000 for special expenses, paid to Ball contractors, who are the ones doing the expansion work. They give that money the designer, who is going to sponsor these kids through a family members company. That $200,000 might be hard to trace to the Rangers, but if he was offered that, there would be an agreement somewhere. I do work for the city, not the Rangers, but I’ll tell you this, most people working at the Aud and for the Rangers aren’t always clued in to what is happening. Not enough communication. So I will say the Rangers had no clue to this actual event, but I would have no proof either for it against other than myself not understanding the legal issues involving these types of signing bonuses and how it might affect the Rangers relationship with the city. However, I’ll take Jacobs families word as truth. I imagine somewhere numbers got fudged and the reporter exaggerated what really happened. In the end, we might never know what happened, and as I said, I doubt anyone will be paying the Rangers a million bucks.

  4. I recently graduated from a large public University with a renowned daily student paper, which I reported for for 2 years. I also spent my last semester interning for a major metropolitan daily covering random, general assignments. As a student, this situation is my absolute nightmare. I hope to God this kid has these conversations on tape. I noticed this quote in the comment section of the story :

    Matt -
    As someone who has covered NCAA hockey and been burned by OHL sources in the past, I urge you to be VERY wary any time they say they’re sure a kid will be taking their offer rather than going to school. Sometimes they’re correct, however more often than not they are fishing for a reporter to leak their overconfident predictions. I believe they use this both as a way to create a reaction from the college fanbase (which then might affect the player) and more so as a means of generating greater interest in their brands.
    I don’t know what Trouba will do except he has been very forthright in his desire to attend Michigan.
    -Seth of MGoBlog

    Hopefully there is merit to this statement. On the other hand, it was a questionable decision made by Matt’s editor to allow the piece to be published with no sources quoted by name, especially given the situation.

    • I am reminded of the two big rules of reporting:

      #1, never burn your sources.
      #2, information doesn’t have an agenda, but your sources always do.

      Though, there’s something that Justin doesn’t call out from the Mercury story. Apparently, the Rangers have been accused of this before:

      “It’s not the first time the Rangers have been accused of paying to attract players. Three years ago, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson told The Record he heard the Rangers offered $500,000 to American rearguard Cam Fowler …”

      I’m thinking the Rangers are going to have a tough time proving libel.

    • I believe that theory might be correct, someone just fishing for info. If that’s true, then reporter indeed has a lot to answer for.

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