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The Hockey News
12/18/2006 7:54:29 PM

The commissioner of the Quebec League said he intends to investigate the release of the Saint John Sea Dogs' top goal scorer after the player failed to sign a flag being sent to troops in Afghanistan.

Dave Bouchard, a 20-year-old left winger with the Sea Dogs, was released by the team over the weekend by GM-coach Jacques Beaulieu and while the Sea Dogs said there were other on- and off-ice issues with Bouchard, his failure to sign the flag was a tipping point.

League commissioner Gilles Courteau said he is satisfied that the player wasn't released because of the flag situation, but is still concerned that Beaulieu told the media that was part of the reason. Courteau said he intends to speak with Beaulieu, team president Scott McCain and others in the Sea Dogs' front office before deciding on a course of action.

''I don't approve of what was said publicly by Saint John Sea Dogs coach-GM Jacques Beaulieu,'' Courteau said. ''If that was the case and he was sent home for refusing to sign a flag, I would have made sure the player would have been reinstated by the team because you can't release a player for doing that.

''There are three things you have to respect: politics, religion and sexual orientation. I would never accept or agree with someone who would do something like that with a player or a member of team management because of his political orientation, his religious orientation or sexual orientation. I would not put up with that.''

But Beaulieu made it very clear that the flag situation was at least part of the reason why Bouchard was released, telling the Saint John Telegraph-Journal that not signing the flag sent, ''the wrong message,'' to the team's younger players and that, ''It's not something we believe in.''

''We have standards, morals and respect and he wasn't bringing that,'' Beaulieu told the Telegraph-Journal. ''We live in one of the best countries in the world. We have a lot of freedom.''

McCain, meanwhile, said he supports his coach-GM's decision to release Bouchard, even though the freedom that Beaulieu spoke of evidently doesn't extend to not signing a flag for troops.

''In the case of this young chap, he's a 20-year-old and our team is in the basement,'' McCain said from his Toronto office where his is president of a division of Canadian food giant Maple Leaf Foods. ''In the case of Bouchard, there were things going on in the dressing room and on the ice that would lead to the coach making a decision to make a trade. Now was (the flag situation) one factor? It probably was, but it was by no means the only factor. Was that the only issue? No, not at all. There were other issues going on behind the scenes. He would have been traded.''

So, then, why did Beaulieu simply not just trade Bouchard – the QMJHL's trading window opened Dec. 18 and goes to Jan. 18 – and not mention the flag controversy?

''In actual fact, I wish he had done just that,'' McCain said. ''I can't speak for my coach. I can't change the words that come out of his mouth.''

For his part, Bouchard told the Telegraph-Journal that the whole mess was the result of a misunderstanding, but acknowledged that it was his fault that he didn't sign the flag and that he should have signed it. When members of the Sea Dogs went to a Canadian Forces Base in nearby Gagetown earlier this season to pose with soldiers, Bouchard was in the photo. Coincidentally, the photo is used on the Sea Dogs' Christmas card.

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