Throughout his career, former NHL enforcer Stephen Peat brought hockey fans to their feet with his thunderous checks and explosive bare-knuckle fights.
He played 130 games for the Washington Capitals and starred for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. His 2002 fight with fellow enforcer PJ Stock is arguably one of the most violent in NHL history.
Peat spent his professional playing career looking out for his teammates, but now, his dad, Walter Peat, says there’s no one to look out for him.
Walter says his son is living on the streets of B.C.’s Fraser Valley and suffering from symptoms common to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of concussion-related brain injury. He says Stephen is using drugs and could be close to death.
According to Walter Peat, his son started to change after his playing career ended. He says Stephen lost the ability to focus, which was out of character for a man known to have the patience to rebuild a motorcycle engine on his own.
“His forgetfulness, his deterioration in his mindset, it slowly changed to the point where, right now, he’s just a very different person,” said Peat.
It was that lack of focus that Walter Peat says led to a life-changing moment. The family home burnt to the ground. Walter Peat says his son had become distracted by a phone call while working with a blow torch. Stephen Peat was charged and eventually pleaded guilty to arson by negligence and given a year of probation.
Since that incident, things seem to have spiralled even further out of control. Stephen Peat has breached the terms of his probation on a number of occasions and spent time in prison. Walter Peat has a court protection order against him after incidents he says turned violent.
“My relationship with my son has gone south … I still love him, and I’m sure he still loves me, but the point is that I have to look after myself,” Peat said.
“If you combine … his frustration of dealing with the headaches and then throw in self-medicating together, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
An alarming call
Because Stephen Peat is restricted from contacting his dad due to the protection order, Walter Peat gets only sporadic updates. The latest call he received from an old friend was alarming.
“He told me that he’d heard that Stephen was in downtown Langley, walking around, covered with blood, his hands down around his ankles,” Peat said.
“I thought, ‘Holy shit. Someone’s either beat him up or he’s close to dead,’ and my heart sank.
“But I do realize that at some point in time, this nightmare’s going to end one way or the other … either he’s going to get fixed or he’s going to die.”
Disappointment in the NHL, WHL
Walter Peat says his son was known for having an ear-to-ear smile whenever he was playing hockey. But during his second year in the NHL, the smile started the fade. Peat says the NHL has not supported his son through this difficult part of his life.
“The NHL, they just take, take, take,” he said.
“You got a player who was your employee, you’d think they’d jump to the forefront and say, “What do you need?'”
Walter Peat is particularly critical of the major junior Western Hockey League, saying the lack of pay and safety considerations for child players is objectionable.
“They get paid $300 to $400 a month for cash … plus room and board, and these owners … are making money hand over fist,” he said.
“I would suggest … it’s borderline child slavery. [The owners] are condoning long-term and, possibly, fatal injuries to players. “
The WHL responded to Walter’s comments with a statement:
“The WHL is always concerned about the well-being of former players, and we sincerely hope Stephen gets the help he needs in order to lead a healthy life moving forward.”
The NHL did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
What’s next for Stephen
Walter Peat says he lies awake at night wondering whether his son will make it through the next day. Because of the recent history of deceased hockey fighters like Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, suicide is a major concern.
“He gets frustrated, and he gets upset, and he says ‘I’m gonna go kill myself’,” Peat said.
“You lose sleep over it, and you get thinking about it and you just think, ‘Well, tomorrow’s going to be the day,’ you know?”
The CBC has been in touch with Stephen Peat, but has been unable to connect for an interview.