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Former Canucks Enforcer Corroborates Lehner Accusations



Vancouver Canucks, Tom Sestito, Robin Lehner
Former Vancouver Canucks forward Tom Sestito.

Elements of Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner’s controversial weekend tweet storm have been pounced on by critics and supporters alike, including former Vancouver Canucks enforcer Tom Sestito, who agreed with the netminder’s claims of widespread pill-popping in the NHL.

“Good for @RobinLehner standing up for the greater good. I can only speak for myself. The amount of vitamin T (Toradol) and Ambien I was given is insane. As the NHL is getting a lot younger, these kids should know what they are walking into,” Sestito tweeted on Monday morning.

A fan responded with, “But Tom, didn’t they tell you what it was for and the side effects it caused or did they just say, “here, take this”?

To which Sestito replied, “I was given a bottle of Toradol. I was a fringe player in the NHL (and) after taking then I felt amazing. Not a pain in my body. You’re taught to believe that the doctors have your best interest, where that’s not always the case. And no, they don’t explain all the drugs they provide.”

Having been copied on the tweet, Lehner then replied with one of his own, “I’m sorry to hear that, brother.”

Sestito hasn’t played in the league since the 2016-’17 season when he finished his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. He had nothing but praise for that team’s medical staff, saying they were responsible for “cleaning him up.” Before that, while with the Vancouver Canucks, Sestito played one partial season, beginning in March of 2013 for head coach Alain Vigneault. He played a second entire season for head coach John Tortorella in 2013-’14, when he racked up 213 penalty minutes in 77 games played.

In the spring of 2014, Jim Benning took over as General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks and by the following winter had moved Sestito out. The left wing played two NHL games at the start of November of 2014 for coach Willie Desjardins. He was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 3, and returned to play one game for the Canucks on Dec. 22 and picked up seven penalty minutes.

He was consistently scratched then sent down to Utica immediately after the holidays. After playing ten games for the Travis Green-coached Comets, the organization released Sestito.

Let’s face it, Sestito was one of the NHL’s few remaining “goons,” and Benning, continuing the prevailing trend at the time, one that has endured, was looking for a hockey player rather than a one-dimensional enforcer.

Before his time in British Columbia, Sestito played a smattering of games. He played 21 games over two seasons for the Philadelphia Flyers. Before that, a total of 13 for the Columbus Blue Jackets over three seasons. Columbus was the team that drafted him in 2006 in the 3rd-round. During this time, he played more than 200 American Hockey League games for the two organizations.

Sestito played 154 career games in his NHL career, exactly half of them in that one season for Tortorella. The Vancouver Canucks General Manager at the time was Mike Gillis. The team’s current medical staff has been in place for at least a decade and has worked with a series of different coaching regimes. Sestito has not singled out any of these men, nor specified a person by name from any of his previous franchises.

Vigneault is the winningest bench boss in Vancouver Canucks history. He coached the most regular season and playoff games for the franchise, won the 2007 Jack Adams Award for NHL coach-of-the-year, and led the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. Vigneault was initially the main target of Lehner’s ire, as was the coach’s current franchise, the Philadelphia Flyers. Lehner has never played for the Flyers or for Vigneault in any of the coach’s three previous NHL stops.

Saturday, Lehner accused teams of giving benzodiazepines and Ambien to players without proper prescriptions. In one tweet, he called for the Flyers to fire the “dinosaur” coach Vigneault. The combination of tweets unleashed speculation that the Flyers, one of Sestito’s former clubs, were one of the teams giving out the drugs.

Monday, Vigneault first joked about the dinosaur comment and then responded to the pill issue.

“As far as the other thing, pushing pills, I don’t need another income,” Vigneault said Monday. “I have no idea where that comes from. I don’t know what else to say. I have no idea.” Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher has said team doctors make decisions regarding treatments, not coaches.

Lehner has apparently already spoken at length with the NHL Players Association since making his comments. He backtracked on his criticism of Vigneault. Much of his other criticism and outrage centered on his former team the Buffalo Sabres for their handling of an ankle injury he suffered while playing for the franchise, and for the current handling of captain Jack Eichel’s neck injury.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed Lehner’s comments with Sportsnet on Monday.

“We take his comments seriously and we’d like in short order to be in a conversation with him so we can hear his concerns directly and we’re going to follow up to see what merit there may be to his concerns,” Bettman said. “You don’t have to tweet to get our attention. We have an 800 number people can call. You can call us directly, we’re an open book. But if he has concerns we want to hear them and see how they need to be addressed.”

The Vancouver Canucks organization has been proactive with related initiatives and its fanbase particularly sympathetic to the topics of substance abuse and behavioural issues since the suicide death of popular forward Rick Rypien in the summer of 2011, soon after signing with the Winnipeg Jets. The decade anniversary of his passing was August 15th. New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard died the same summer from a combination of alcohol and oxycodone.

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