03/09/2013 12:13 EST | Updated 05/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Canucks Sued By Italian Sport Psychologist Over Failed Contract

Chelsea FC
A world-renowned sport psychologist who claims he was supposed to be a secret weapon for the Vancouver Canucks is now suing the hockey team for failing to give him the work they promised.

In a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court, Bruno Demichelis says Canucks co-owner Francesco Aquilini lured him to Vancouver with a promise to build a first-class sports science centre.

But within less than a year of arriving, the Italian claims the Canucks told him they couldn't extend his work permit.

Demichelis claims he's credited with establishing the MilanLab — a revolutionary training centre that contributed to the success of Italian soccer club AC Milan.

He says he joined the Chelsea Football Club in 2009 to work as an assistant coach for manager Carlo Ancelotti and set up the "Mind Room" which led to that team's 2009-2010 Premier League and FA Cup victories.

In his claim, Demichelis says Aquilini first visited him in London in 2010 and tried to persuade him to move to Canada. He says he visited again in 2011, shortly after the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup final.

"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 claim says.

"Aquilini told the plaintiff that he was the person the Canucks needed to improve the players' physical and psychological condition."

Demichelis claims he was making much more money in the U.K. than the Canucks could offer, but ultimately agreed to join the team for an annual salary of $700,000 and a signing bonus of $400,000.

He claims Aquilini promised him they would also form a business partnership to build a sports science centre in Vancouver called Canucks Lab.

No work permit after lockout

But in December 2012, during the NHL lockout, Demichelis claims the Canucks fired him because the club was unable to apply on his behalf for an extension of his work permit because "there are qualified Canadians available to do the work."

He says the team allegedly said they posted an ad for his job and 29 out of 59 applicants met the requirements.

But Demichelis claims his citizenship and immigration records show that his previous work permits were obtained on the grounds that his work would be of "significant benefit to Canada" because his skills would allow him to "enhance the level of play for the Vancouver Canucks."

Demichelis is seeking lost pay as well as aggravated and punitive damages for mental stress.

The Canucks team management issued a brief statement saying they would not comment on the matter on Friday evening.

"Canucks Sports & Entertainment will refrain from commenting on a matter involving a former employee and will respect this ongoing process," said the statement.

None of the claims in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

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