1:20 pm – Casey Cizikas, a 2009 Islanders draft pick charged with manslaughter for a rugby game incident that led to the accidental death of an opponent, was given a sentence of one year probation and 100 hours of community service this morning in court in Brampton, Ontario.
The 18-year old Cizikas, a 2009 Islanders fourth round pick and center for the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, was indicted on manslaughter charges for his role in the death of 15-year old Manny Castillo. The facts of the case have been muddled through two years of incorrect media reports and by conflicting testimony in the court case.
In a rugby game in Mississauga in 2007, Cizikas tackled Castillo. Some testimony described the tackle as “part of the play,” some as a rough tackle that was not part of the play. Cizikas said he was in a headlock and used self-defense. Some witnesses said Cizikas used a pile-driver move to drive Castillo into the ground.
Castillo died two days later. Contrary to many news accounts, Castillo’s death was not a result of a spinal cord injury but rather a head injury. It was also noted by physicians that two weeks prior to the battle with Cizikas, Castillo suffered a major concussion. One doctor testified that Castillo’s concussion was so severe, he should have been held out of competition with physical contact for a full year.
Standing above all the conflicting testimony was an overwhelmingly compassionate gesture by the Castillo family. Since they believed Manny’s death was an accident, the family asked that Cizikas be spared punishment. However, because the tackle led to a death, their request could not be met. Cizikas was found by Judge Bruce Duncan to have used “unnecessary force” and charged with manslaughter. At today’s hearing, Manuel Castillo – Manny’s father – gave an emotional impact statement that called for fighting in youth hockey to be abolished, but again did not blame Cizikas for his son’s death.
With today’s sentencing, Cizikas can continue his pursuit of his NHL dream, beginning with his participation in the Islanders’ Prospect Camp later this week at Iceworks in Syosset and training camp in September in Saskatoon.
One scout we contacted after the draft said Cizikas is a player of “early second-round” skill and tenacity levels who ended up the first pick of the fourth round because of “an obvious, understandable lack of focus at times.” He played well head-to-head against Matt Duchene in the OHL playoffs this season and has been a member of U-17 and U-18 Canadian national teams, anchoring lines with players such as Zach Kassian and Ryan O’Reilly.
NHL Central Scouting chief E.J. McGuire discussed Casey’s abilities with Mike Brophy of Sportsnet. “There are nights when he controls the game and then there are other nights you watch him and you say to yourself, ‘Come on kid, grab the puck and go with it.’ He has (Patrick) Kane-like skill and size isn’t an issue, but he needs to work on his consistency. Maybe that will come with time and maturity. You worry about what happened hanging over his head and wonder how big that dark cloud is. On the other hand, with what he has had to deal with, maybe it will make him more resilient.”
A Note to our Readers: Under Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, for two years Cizikas has gone unidentified in media reports north of the border. Nevertheless, everyone in Ontario knew his story. Every scout in the NHL was aware of his situation. His story was debated on hockey message boards, including several Islanders sites.
An excited but humbled Cizikas gave Point Blank an interview the day after he was drafted by the Islanders. Although this blog is not bound by Canada’s youth law, we decided to honor it in respect to Cizikas and his family until the sentencing. Eight days later, and with Cizikas now receiving probation and community service, here is a transcript of our call.
Casey, what was your reaction when you were heard you were taken in the fourth round by the Islanders?
Lots of emotions. Ecstatic. It was like the sun came out. A weight off my shoulder. All of those cliches. So much gratitude for the Islanders for showing faith in me. Incredible emotion seeing how much it meant to my mom and dad, who have been there for me through everything. My father was so happy. Mom was crying. It’s impossible to really sum it up.
I know you didn’t attend the draft. Where were you when you got the news?
I was at driving school.
You didn’t skip it for draft day?
No. Since I wasn’t going to be at the draft, I wanted to keep my regular routine. I told my driving teacher before class that I might get a very important phone call, and if I did I would have to leave for the rest of the day. He was very understanding.
The call came about mid-way through class. It was my agent. He told me the news and then I spoke to (assistant GM) Ryan Jankowski. I have no idea what he said to me because I was so emotional. I hope he calls again so I don’t miss anything about development camp.
Because of the indictment, did you think you would be drafted?
I thought I would go at some point on Saturday. I just had no idea when and to who.
Had the Islanders spent much time talking to you?
Not much more than anyone else. I wasn’t invited by the NHL to the Draft Combine, so I didn’t get to meet with them there. I remember an Islanders scout meeting with a lot of guys on our team and handing out a questionnaire early in the season.
That was probably the psych test. You must have done well.
I guess so. I take those seriously. I hope it helped. The first time I thought it could be the Islanders was the week of the draft. My agent said they were asking a lot of questions about me.
Did the court proceedings over the last year affect your play?
In a way, I have to say so, although I hate using it as an excuse. I had a good rookie year at St. Mike’s. Last season, I got hit from behind in a preseason game against Owen Sound and missed the next five and a half weeks. It took me a while to get going. It was a rough year. But I say all that, and you have to understand that I know the situation I’m in and I’m fortunate to have hockey in my life.
Is the hockey rink where you’re happiest these days?
Coming to the rink every day means everything to me. Being with my friends, my coaches. It releases my stress, at least for a few hours.
When you’re focused and at your best, what kind of player are you?
I think I can play like Mike Richards of the Flyers. I model my play after him. I believe I can be that kind of player someday.
What has the support of (St. Mike’s coach) Dave Cameron been like?
Outstanding. He’s a special person. In the time since the incident happened, he has always been at my side. His family is in PEI (Prince Edward Island) and I know he has lost time with them because he has been looking out for me. I will never forget what he has done. My agent has also been a big part of my hockey family. I owe them so much.
What did it mean to have the support of the Castillo family?
Oh…that’s…they are special people. I don’t even know what to say about them. It was a terrible, terrible accident. They have never, not once, pointed fingers. It’s hard for me to talk about them…(Cizikas gets choked up and we take a brief break). They know how I feel.
So how does being drafted by the Islanders change life for you?
It’s a big step. It means a team has gone out of their way to show they have faith in me. Now I have a goal with an NHL team, a team I feel I can trust. The New York Islanders are behind me, they have made that clear. I have an NHL team that believes in me. You know what that means after everything has happened?
I’m going to do everything I can to show their faith in me was not wasted. I think I work pretty hard, but now I’m going to work twice as hard to become an Islander and pay them back for their loyalty.
Comments on this story only. Comment Guidelines.