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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Sports Shrink Blows Whistle on Canucks

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - A sports psychologist claims in court that the Vancouver Canucks hockey team lured him to Vancouver with the promise of a job and partnership, then fired him after learning his trade secrets.

Bruno Demichelis sued the Vancouver Canucks and its owner Francesco Aquilini in British Columbia Supreme Court.

He claims the defendants lured him to Vancouver after the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

Demichelis describes himself in the complaint as "a pioneer in the area of sports psychology, who founded a revolutionary sports science centre at the training complex of Associazione Calcio Milan ('A.C. Milan'), a professional football (soccer) club. The sports science centre, known as the 'MilanLab,' is credited with reducing player injuries and contributing to A.C. Milan's success."

Demichelis claims he brought his techniques to the Chelsea Football Club in 2009, where he was an assistant coach. There, he says, he "set up the 'Mind Room' at the club's training complex."

He claims that Aquilini visited London three times to learn about his Mind Room with Chelsea.

"During the third visit, Aquilini told the plaintiff that he was very concerned about the physical and psychological condition of the Canucks players, and the negative impact it had on their performance in the Stanley Cup Final," the complaint states. "Aquilini told the plaintiff that he was the person the Canucks needed to improve the players' physical and psychological condition, and ultimately, their performance."

Demichelis claims that Aquilini told him that he could not match the salary of the European football clubs, but that he would form a business partnership with Demichelis to help him market his sports science technology around the world. Demichelis claims he was offered a higher-paid position with the Paris St. Germain football club, but took the job with the Canucks based on Aquilini's assurance of long-term, secure employment in Vancouver.

The team secured work permits for him and paid his airfare and living expenses until he began work as the Canucks' director of human performance in July 2012, according to the complaint. His salary was to be $700,000 a year, with a $400,000 signing bonus.

But in December 2012, after the NHL had locked out its players, the Canucks fired him, claiming they could not apply to have his work permit extended "because 'there are qualified Canadians available to do the work,'" the complaint states.

Relying on a legal opinion from the team's law firm, defendants claimed that out of 59 applicants for its director of human performance position, 29 Canadians met the criteria for the job.

But Demichelis says the job description did not match "the skills and expertise that the plaintiff possessed, and for which the plaintiff was recruited by Aquilini and the club."

Demichelis claims that after he received his immigration papers, he found out that his work permits were based on a "significant benefit to Canada" category for foreign workers. The Canucks had touted him to Canada as the pioneer of sports science technology that would improve the team's performance, according to the complaint.

But Demichelis claims, "Aquilini had no intention of fulfilling the representations and promises, which were made to induce the plaintiff to forego his other employment opportunities, move to Vancouver with his family, enter into the contract, and obtain the technology from the plaintiff."

Demichelis seeks punitive damages for wrongful firing, bad faith, misrepresentation, and mental distress.

He is represented by Paul M. Pulver of Vancouver.

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