When minor league hockey fans began receiving a flurry of push notifications from the American Hockey League app Wednesday, they may have been expecting off-season news about the Cleveland Monsters, Lehigh Valley Phantoms or Rockford IceHogs. Instead, for roughly 20 minutes, users were bombarded with bizarre alerts that demanded a $6,000 payment from a man named Stewart Zimmel.
“Stewart Zimmel. Since I have no way to contact you are you owe me nearly $6,000 I would ask you to contact me about payment,” one of the notifications read. “Also, I’m filing a workplace report against you for threatening to punch me in the throat nemours times.”
That message was sent to users in at least three separate alerts and quickly became a talking point among hockey fans on social media.
Other push notifications from the app read, “Stewart Zimmel threatened to punch Ian Bowman in the throat” and “Stewart Zimmel please pay the outstanding monies owed.”
Another message simply said there was an error with the application and urged users to uninstall it.
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When users opened the app Wednesday, they saw a March 2017 conversation between Zimmel and Bowman, who said in an interview Thursday that he was a contractor for HockeyTech. In that exchange, Zimmel told Bowman he would “punch you in the throat,” putting the threat in quotation marks and following it up with a smiley face.
According to LinkedIn, Zimmel is the chief operating officer at HockeyTech, which houses the world’s largest private repository of data on hockey players, teams and leagues.
In the interview, Bowman confirmed that he sent the messages, but he said he meant to send them only to his and Zimmel’s devices — not to all app users.
Bowman said he gave notice this month that he planned to leave. But his June invoice was never paid, he said.
“He basically the next morning cut off all access to not only work email, chats, but also to my own system that I had been programming for four years, almost five years,” Bowman said. He also tried to email Zimmel, he said, but it bounced back.
“At this point I tried to send a test message as a last resort that would go to my device and only his device,” Bowman said. “Something we used to test an application to make sure it’s push functional.”
Bowman, who lives in Alberta, said he sent the messages a few times because he did not receive any of the notifications on his own device.
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He estimated that the messages went out to roughly 30,000 app users.
Zimmel did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent through HockeyTech.
Users received the 10 to 12 messages over the course of 15 to 20 minutes, Jason Chaimovitch, the American Hockey League’s vice-president for communications, said Thursday.
“I think we scrambled a little bit, and we figured out what the problem was, and they were receptive in getting it fixed,” Chaimovitch said. “Our users weren’t compromised. There was no real security issue. It probably looked a whole lot worse than it was.”
Chaimovitch said that the app had never been misused before and that the league was working with HockeyTech to ensure it would never happen again.
By the end of the drama, the league had sent out an apology for the embarrassing moment.
“We have worked with our app host to resolve today’s issue of unauthorized notifications coming from the AHL app,” it read. “We apologize for any inconvenience.”
Bowman said HockeyTech’s human resources department had since contacted him and agreed to promptly pay the invoice.
Bowman said he regretted that the messages went out to so many people.
“If I knew it was going to be public, it probably would have been something a lot more clever,” Bowman said. “And also the spelling. So it’s really embarrassing.”