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Gloves Come Off in Hockey Hazing Lawsuit 

Inside Track

Grab a seat. There have been several major developments this week in the infamous UVM hockey hazing story as pressure builds among the parties in the hazing lawsuit to settle out of court before the resumption of classes in the fall.

In an exclusive interview with Seven Days, former Assistant Captain Matt Sanders spoke publicly for the first time about the nightmare he and fellow hockey pucks have lived through as their voices were silenced, their season was canceled and, under the glare of the local and national media, they were portrayed as “perverts and liars.”

And former sophomore defenseman, Joseph Flammia of Woburn, Mass., told Seven Days that last week’s report of an out-of-court settlement reached with five of the seven players sued by Corey LaTulippe was not accurate.

“Nothing’s a done deal yet,” insisted Flammia.

Last week, Attorney John Boylan told Seven Days that five of the seven players sued — all except team captain Kevin Karlander and Matt Sanders — had reached an out-of-court settlement. After Seven Days hit the street, he also told the same thing to The Burlington Free Press. According to Boylan, the amount of the settlement would remain “confidential” and the players would sign a “covenant,” promising not to countersue Corey LaTulippe, the most famous goalie never to play for UVM.

Not so fast, said Flammia this week. He said he was aware settlement discussions had been underway between the lawyers, but so far, he said, nothing is signed, sealed or delivered.

Attorney Boylan could not be reached for comment this week, and LaTulippe’s attorney, Scot Kline, declined to discuss the case.

“I am not going to make a comment,” said Mr. Kline, a lawyer whose comments are as rare as four-leaf clovers.

In addition to teammates, Mr. LaTulippe sued UVM, its president, athletic director and coach.

It was painfully obvious, in talking with both former UVM pucksters this week, that the trials and tribulations of their Hockey Horror Picture Show at UVM last winter has taken a significant toll. They were told by university officials not to talk to the press. It wasn’t easy, they said, not to be able to defend themselves in the midst of their public hanging.

Shortly after UVM President Judith Ramaley put the Hockey Cats’ season on ice for good in January, Sanders turned pro with the Detroit Vipers of the International League.

Flammia, a sophomore last season, told us he has dropped out of UVM and is now working full time in the Boston area while saving money to pay for night school. Pulling the plug on the season effectively ended his dream of earning scholarship money based on improved performance on ice in the season that didn’t happen.

“My life’s been turned upside down,” Flammia told Seven Days. “I’m not looking for sympathy,” he said, “but people should know what’s going on. I lost a dream I had been working on for years.”

And Seven Days has learned that freshman defenseman David Noble of Cohasset, Mass., has also left UVM. Mr. Noble could not be reached for comment.

The story of the hockey hazing scandal at Vermont’s state university is all too well known. It has vaulted UVM into the forefront of a new national awareness of hazing in collegiate athletics.

Freshman tryout goalie Corey LaTulippe of Williston was cut from the team in October. In December he filed suit in federal court alleging he and other freshman were subjected to hazing by upperclassman in violation of UVM rules for student behavior.

But in a May pretrial deposition, Corey admitted under oath that several of his allegations were untrue, and he knew they were untrue when the lawsuit was filed. A subsequent investigation by Attorney General Bill Sorrell found hazing had been a tradition among the pucksters as far back as he looked. Veterans had long practiced team initiation rites — particularly at an annual “Big Night” party. The events of that night involving overdrinking, nudity and crude acts will not be soon forgotten.

“I wish we could have stopped the party,” said Sanders the assistant captain. “Now, looking back,” he said, “it wouldn’t have been a big deal” to cancel the annual men’s hockey ritual. “I wish I had stepped up,” he lamented. “I wish I had done something. Tradition doesn’t make it okay,” said the older and now wiser hockey player. Sanders said his lawyers strongly advised him not to speak to the press. He contacted us, he said, because he wanted to get his story out. Sanders chose Seven Days, he said, because the paper’s coverage had been fair.

Matt Sanders knew Corey LaTulippe better than most players. That’s because they both went to Northfield Mount Hermon for two years of prep school.

“He spent two summers in a row at my house (in Saugus, Mass.). We invited him to get to know the guys so he’d be that much ahead,” Sanders told Seven Days. “He was really a great kid. It’s just a sad situation that he’s got himself into. Now he wants everybody to settle out and give him some cash? No friend does this. No friend would ask you and your family to put up money for lies,” said Sanders.

And Sanders insisted that, despite his relationship with LaTulippe, the freshman wannabe never once expressed any concern whatsoever about the team’s long-standing tradition of initiating the frosh.

“We got to know each other early on,” said Sanders. “Corey and me got along real well. He never mentioned one thing about the initiation, like there was any problem with it. He never said he had a concern about it or anything to me.” In Sanders’ view it was all “a set-up.”

We’ve noted here before, too, that the “Big Night” party was the ammunition LaTulippe’s lawyers needed to anchor their blockbuster lawsuit.

Another thing Sanders does not feel good about is how the hazing scandal crosschecked the Coach Mike Gilligan. Gilly took a lot of heat. There were calls for his resignation and/or dismissal.

“To say he knows everything about what’s going on is wrong,” explained Sanders. “Gilly’s not a babysitter. He’s not paid to go around and watch us after we leave the rink. He’s a hockey coach and he does his job well.” According to Sanders, “We all feel bad the most for him because he’s taken it on the chin for all of us and we can’t do anything to help him.”

When the shit hit the fan, said Sanders, Gilligan was there for them. He said three quarters of the players would have left school right away if it wasn’t for Gilligan.

“He’s a good guy,” said Sanders, “and he’s done everything for me.”

As for his former friend, Corey LaTulippe, Sanders said, “He is in a real hard spot.” LaTulippe, he said, “wants a breather. He wants to get out. He wants us to settle. He wants to get out of it cheap so we can get him off our back. Do I want to shut him up by giving him money?” Sanders asked.

“I don’t want to settle with a kid that’s lying about me,” he quickly answered. “I just went through business school. They taught me about ethics at UVM,” Sanders said. “Now they’re telling me to pay somebody off,” he complained. According to Sanders, the pressure is on to settle and skate on down the road of life. Get the hockey hazing mess out of the picture before the next season starts up again this fall.

“All the lawyers, all the insurance companies,” he told Seven Days, “just want us to settle. Pay him what he wants. It’s nothing. It’s peanuts. It’s not even going to go to him. It’s going to go to his lawyers. It’s really not a lot of money,” said Sanders. But for him, it’s about principle, and it’s about the truth.

“They’re asking us to do something that’s just wrong,” he argued. In fact, said Sanders, he’s spoken to his lawyer “about the very serious possibility of counter-suing” Corey.

Aside from the civil lawsuit in federal court on Elmwood Avenue, Sanders also has a little problem a few blocks away in Vermont District Court. There he’s been charged with furnishing alcohol to minors for the “Big Night” party. Originally, he told Seven Days, the state’s attorney offered him a deal. If he pled guilty, he would get “diversion” since it was a first offense. After completing a community service sentence, the charge would be wiped from his record.

“Basically,” Sanders told Seven Days, “I’m being charged because I had an ‘A’ on my jersey. No other reason.” The “A” distinguished his role on the ice as an assistant captain.

“I didn’t buy any booze. I didn’t supply any booze,” he told us. “I went to a party, didn’t even drink at the party because I had scuba [diving] the next day, so I couldn’t drink. I went to a party and had a good time with my friends and I’m being charged with enabling. What is enabling?” he asked. “Does an ‘A’ mean enabling? That’s what we’re coming down to,” he said. “Trying to figure out how much the ‘A’ really means.”

Team Captain Kevin Karlander recently pled “no contest” to a furnishing charge and got 50 hours of community service and a $500 fine.

Sanders’ diversion deal was on the table, as he noted, prior to LaTulippe’s May deposition.

“After the deposition,” said Sanders, “we put in a notice to the state’s attorney to relook at the case. We want it dropped.”

So far, Sanders said, he hasn’t heard back from the Palace of Justice on Cherry Street. “I hope they do the right thing and see the truth,” he said.

Stay tuned.

Hail Britannia!

The BBC report on Vermont’s civil-union law ran last Friday on “Newsnight,” the BBC’s version of “60 Minutes.” Unfortunately, yours truly was left on the cutting room floor. Our best line that didn’t make it was, “In Vermont the bar of individual freedom was just raised an important notch and not one punch was thrown, not one pub was bombed. All Vermont really did was legalize love.”

Thought the Brits would snap up the pub-bombing reference.

“Newsnight” went for the “state divided” angle and featured Rev. Craig Bensen giving the “walks like a duck” sermon and Republican State Rep. Nancy Sheltra promising the extermination of every single immoral legislator in the majority that passed Vermont’s landmark civil-rights law.

“If a Republican is running for office and will not rescind this vote,” threatened Vermont’s Queen of Intolerance, “I will find another Republican to represent them. If I cannot find another Republican, I will take anybody,” said the Bible-packing Derby Line divorcée.

That’s right — “anybody.” Very rational, intelligent woman, that Nancy Sheltra. And she’s obviously got pretty high standards, don’t you think? What the reporter from London didn’t know is that, despite her ability to give big bite, Nancy “Gimme” Sheltra’s got a very small following.

Proudly defending Vermont’s moral leadership on the BBC were State Sen. Peter Shumlin and attorney Beth Robinson, who argued the case before the Vermont Supreme Court — you know, the court with the Republican chief justice. Both performed admirably. Amazing how a little intelligence stands out in the public debate over civil unions. Shummy spoke about how all the hateful, nasty, uncivil spew he caught from the self-appointed advocates of self-righteous bigotry opened his eyes wide to the inhuman treatment that gay people have long endured in our democratic human society.

The BBC also used sound from local talk radio. Unfortunately, they did not identify “The Mark Johnson Show” on 1390 WKDR-AM, and now also on WDEV-AM and FM. The late-morning show is the prime spot on the radio dial where our local batch of mean-spirited, conservative malcontents have dominated the airwaves for a decade. They are not happy people. Some clearly need the sort of professional help that no talk-show host could provide. Day after day, the same queue of bitter bigots line up to vent that self-righteous moral superiority. Unfortunately, the host usually lets them run the program. Anything they say, no matter how smarmy, disingenuous or outrageous, gets a polite “thank you” from the host.

On the BBC, we recognized the bitter whine of one of our “favorites,” — none other than the Winooski trash-mouth herself, Joyce Schmaldienst. You may remember our outing of Mrs. Smallminded a couple months back. It silenced her sharp tongue for a couple weeks. Joyce has made thousands of appearances on WKDR over the past decade as “Sylvia from Winooski.” For “Sylvia,” anyone to the left of Nancy Sheltra is a commie, flag-burning, fag-loving, pot-smoking, atheistic, anti-American piece of garbage. Very pleasant woman.

Media Notes

Over at Newschannel 5, the NBC affiliate, morning anchor Lori Rothman is leaving after this week. She’s moving up the media career ladder to a spin as a morning anchor in the Big Apple for Bloomberg Business News. Rachael Ruble will take over starting Monday. Ms. Ruble comes from WPTZ’s sister-station in White River Junction, where she’s been anchoring the evening newscast.

Over at WVNY Ch. 22, the ABC affiliate, Managing Editor Catherine Hughes is leaving Friday after a year with the startup news operation. Catherine provided needed local knowledge for the fledgling local news operation.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

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