CALGARY — On the day the killer of their slain teammate was sentenced, the Calgary Stampeders were thinking about Mylan Hicks and his family.
Nelson Lugela was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison with no parole for at least 18 years in the shooting death of 23-year-old Hicks, who was a practice roster player for the Stampeders.
Several Stampeders were celebrating a win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a Calgary bar on Sept. 25, 2016 when a dispute over a spilled drink escalated in the parking lot after closing time.
Witnesses said Hicks was shot in the abdomen and chest as he ran for cover. He died in hospital.
Lugela’s second-degree murder conviction carried an automatic life sentence, but the court had to determine the period of the 21-year-old’s parole ineligibility.
The majority of Calgary’s coaching staff and a dozen Stampeder players remain from the 2016 team. They were reminded of that tragic night in Wednesday’s meting out of justice.
“It’s more about his family and they get to see justice happen,” quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said.
“It doesn’t bring him back. It doesn’t change what the guy did. I think we’re just happy for his family to see justice, but they would trade that kid going to jail for their son being back here.”
The sentencing hearing in Calgary courts was abruptly moved from the afternoon to morning, which caught the Stampeders off-guard.
Head coach Dave Dickenson said the organization wanted to have players and management who knew Hicks at court to support parents Renee and Reggie Hill, but the rescheduling conflicted with the team’s morning practice.
“The worse part is we wanted to be there for Reggie and Renee,” Dickenson said.
“We preach family and Mylan is still part of the Stampeder family. I hope Renee and Reggie understand we wish we were there, we wanted to be there. It just didn’t happen.”
Hicks, from Detroit, played linebacker in high school and for Michigan State.
“We only had him for three months,” Dickenson said. “Just thought he was a great person. I wish I got to know him better.
“You don’t think things like this are going to happen, especially in Canada, in Calgary. He came from Detroit. We have stereotypes about that city and yet tragedy happened here.”
The Stampeders wore Hicks’s No. 31 stickers on their helmet the remainder of the 2016 season.
After Calgary won last year’s Grey Cup, defensive tackle Micah Johnson said in a post-game television interview “We ain’t forgot you Mylan.”
Stampeder veteran halfback Brandon Smith said it was difficult to feel satisfaction about the sentence because one young man died and another was going to jail for a long time because of “something so petty and stupid.”
“Justice is served and it’s a relief to know the right thing was done and the verdict is out there,” Smith said. “We’ll never forget Mylan, but at least we know the trial is finally done and put to rest.”
— With files from Lauren Krugel in Calgary