A veteran junior hockey coach has been charged with sexual assault and assault in Saskatchewan, CBC News has learned, following a complaint from a former player.
Bernie Lynch, who has coached across Canada, the U.S. and Europe for more than four decades, turned himself in to police in Devon, Alta., over the weekend after the Regina Police Service issued a warrant for his arrest on April 30. He faces one count each of sexual assault and assault, dating back to August 1988. The complainant was 17 at the time.
The Regina Police Service confirmed that the 66-year-old remains in custody and will be transferred to Regina as part of its ongoing investigation.
Lynch is also the subject of another police investigation in Edson, Alta., where he coached the Junior A Aeros in the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. A recent CBC News investigation detailed allegations of abusive behaviour made by parents and players, and concerns over a close and possibly inappropriate relationship with a player.
In previous communications with CBC News, Lynch has said he is “shocked” by all of the allegations “that have surfaced over the past months,” describing them as a “smear campaign.”
In March, CBC News reported that Lynch had been suspended from his job in Ontario coaching the Junior A Fort Frances Lakers of the cross-border Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL), shortly after New Year’s for sending what the team called “inappropriate” texts and emails to one of his players.
‘Kind of weird’
The player told CBC News that Lynch sought to monitor and control his behaviour, sending up to 50 unsolicited and unwanted messages in a single day.
“He would get mad if I didn’t text him back right away,” said the 20-year-old player. “He would get mad even after games — like, we’d end at nine or 10 and I’d want to go hang out with my teammates.”
CBC News granted his request for confidentiality because of concerns that he would face repercussions in the hockey world.
“He’d always be like, ‘Why don’t you just come hang out with me?’ Like, ‘We’ll have fun and watch a movie,'” he said. “Kind of weird.”
Some of the messages sent from Lynch’s phone were supportive. Others sounded romantic.
“The last thing I think of when I go to sleep at night and the first thing I think of when I wake up is you … Always your friend and passionately missing you. Thank you and I love you,” one read.
The Lakers fired Lynch on March 9, just days after that report.
The Regina charges follow the recent reopening of a long-dormant investigation.
According to a civil court action that Lynch launched in 2000, Saskatchewan RCMP began investigating him in 1997, after receiving an anonymous tip Lynch had had “inappropriate and sexual involvement” with a player almost a decade earlier.
Suspended from coaching
A parallel investigation was launched by the Regina Police Service that fall, and later expanded to examine allegations about Lynch’s conduct while he was coach of the Regina Pat Canadians, a AAA Midget under-18 team, during the 1997-98 season.
No charges were laid at the time, but Hockey Regina, the local governing body, suspended Lynch from coaching for more than three years. He was reinstated after his 2000 civil suit, under the proviso that he wasn’t allowed to be alone with the players.
WATCH | Suspended for inappropriate messages:
Lynch, who previously held high-profile jobs with the Humboldt Broncos and Regina Pats, returned to professional coaching in 2005, taking a job with the Minot State University Beavers in North Dakota.
Starting in 2007, Lynch spent the better part of a decade coaching youth teams in Norway, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Denmark.
The Swedish newspaper Expressen recently published an article about the veteran coach’s time behind the bench for a team in Huddinge, a Stockholm suburb, a tenure that ended with controversy and complaints in 2014.
Lynch was dismissed after receiving a lengthy suspension for threatening a referee. But one parent told the paper that there were other factors at play, including bullying behaviour and unwanted and inappropriate text messages to a 15-year-old player.
“I discovered that Bernie had started texting my son in the evenings,” the mother, whose identity is being shielded by Expressen, told the newspaper. “I reacted immediately and asked why the coach was writing to him. Finally, I took his phone and checked the history. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
One message, in particular, raised concerns.
“Answer your phone … Pump runking,” Lynch wrote, misspelling a Swedish word for masturbation. “I can hear you all the way over here … Give it a rest.”
The paper said it reached out to Lynch about the allegations but that he did not respond.