Val d’Or hockey coach Yvanhoé Bélisle says he’s sorry he called a young Cree hockey player a “savage,” but says everybody uses language like that and it’s just part of hockey.

“I know it’s not nice what I said. It’s part of the game. I say things that everybody says,” Bélisle told The Nation in a phone interview.

“Why make a drama about it if I call him a savage or a Cawich? They call us f***ing frogs. We don’t sue them for that. Why am I a racist? C’mon,” said Bélisle.

The word “Cawich” is a derogatory slang word for Natives used in Northern Quebec.

The incident occurred after a heated hockey game between the Val d’Or and Chibougamau-Chapais Bantam CC teams in late November, hosted by Val d’Or. It was the first time the Val d’Or team lost this season.

After the game, Bélisle, 44, was angry because a Chibougamau team member who is Cree had cross-checked one of his players and put him in the hospital. He allegedly started screaming racist insults in a corridor. According to Jerry Poirier, manager of the Chibougamau team, Bélisle yelled: “F***ing savages. I’m going to go find some AA players and we will destroy the f***ing savages.”

Poirier said the cross-check was legal and didn’t result in a penalty.

Bélisle’s version of what he said is slightly different: “Your guy is a f***ing savage.”

Bélisle, a father of three, said he’s coached lots of Crees and has three Native youth on his own team. He said he’s even been invited to go goose hunting by some Crees. “I’m nice people. I’ve got a good family. I’ve coached Chinese people, I’ve coached every people and nobody said nothing about me.”

But Poirier stands by what he heard and adds that there have been other complaints about Bélisle in the past. He says there are four other witnesses to back him up.

Daniel Ménard, coach of the Chibougamau team, was also present. “In all this, we shouldn’t forget that these statements were addressed to youths of 14 and 15 years. I understand that for him the provincial final is important but I believe that as a volunteer we must respect the youth who come out to skate,” he was quoted as telling the newspaper Le Sentinelle.

Poirier and Chief Abel Bosum, the father of one of the kids on the Chibougamau squad, made complaints to the Bantam CC League and called for Bélisle to be disciplined. Chief Bosum went so far as to say Cree chiefs would consider moving the annual December hockey tournament out of Val d’Or if nothing was done.

The Chibougamau team players, who are 14 and 15 years old, were in their changing room and apparently didn’t hear Bélisle’s remarks.

Gérald MacDonald, president of the league, said the league “disapproves” of Bélisle’s comments, and has referred the matter to a disciplinary committee. “What happened isn’t good for hockey, it’s not good for the league,” MacDonald told The Nation.