The Canucks drafted Jake Virtanen in the first round of the 2014 draft.
He played five and a half seasons with his original team before being placed on leave in May of 2021 due to allegations of rape.
This July, he went on trial for that rape. The victim was put through the typical ringer of the “good ol’ boys” club, with the defense calling on a litany of stereotypes and misogynistic tropes to paint her as a bad girl who changed her mind and wants to ruin someone’s life now. The defense attorney later apologized for that line of questioning, but the damage was done, and the seeds of doubt were planted.
The victim, for her part, was collected and clear with her statements, among which was, “I thought saying no, I don’t want to do this and physically pushing him off of me was enough. What else did I have to say?”
Apparently, according to the defense, she should have made something up: that she was on her period, that she had a yeast infection. According to the defense, all she needed was the right excuse to avoid being raped, and it was on her for failing to come up with one. The victim, 18 at the time of the assault, testified clearly that she did not consent to sex with Virtanen, but he was found not guilty anyway.
While Virtanen was on leave, the Canucks investigated the incident, and whatever they found was enough to buy his contract and set him free – even if the court failed to find the same burden of proof met.
And then, in the best spirit of Canadian hockey and the rape club it pretends not to be, the Edmonton Oilers picked up Virtanen like he wasn’t just in court trying to defend raping someone.
Virtanen’s slap on the wrist and subsequent celebration of criminality by the Oilers comes against the backdrop of revelations of a horrifying assault by eight hockey players that occurred in 2003. During a Hockey Canada event, the players assaulted an unconscious woman on camera, one player at one point even turning to the camera and promising, “a f—ing lamb roast.” This incident was made public the same month Virtanen was found “not guilty.”
Hockey can pretend all it wants to be an elevated and sophisticated game, not slogging through the mud like football or soccer, but what it’s become is the elite ol’ boys club that sets women up to be assaulted and then punishes them for looking for justice.
And the Oilers co-signing Virtanen’s behavior by, well, signing him – it tells you all you need to know about the leadership.