Monday's NHL: Blackhawks hire outside firm; Bettman unsure of Olympics
Chicago — The Chicago Blackhawks have hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an independent review of allegations that a former player was sexually assaulted by a then-assistant coach in 2010.
CEO Danny Wirtz announced the move in an internal memo Monday morning. It also was confirmed by a person familiar with the decision who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
“An experienced team of professionals, led by former federal prosecutor Reid Schar of the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP, has been retained and is currently conducting an independent review of these allegations,” Wirtz said in the memo obtained by the AP. “Mr. Schar and his firm have significant experience conducting independent investigative reviews, have no previous ties to the Blackhawks organization, and have been directed to follow the facts wherever they lead.”
The Athletic first reported on the memo from Wirtz.
The investigation into one of the NHL’s most high-profile franchises comes after the filing of two lawsuits against the team. The first alleges sexual assault by former assistant coach Bradley Aldrich during the team’s run to the 2010 Stanley Cup title, and the second was filed by a former student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan.
“We take the allegations described in these lawsuits very seriously,” Wirtz said in his memo. “They in no way reflect this organization’s culture or values.”
A former player said Aldrich assaulted him, and that the team did nothing after he informed an employee. The lawsuit, filed on May 7 in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges Aldrich also assaulted another unidentified Blackhawks player. The former player who sued and is seeking more than $150,000 in damages is referred in the document as “John Doe.”
The eight-page lawsuit says Aldrich, then a video coach for the Blackhawks, “turned on porn and began to masturbate in front of” the player without his consent. It says Aldrich also threatened to “physically, financially and emotionally” hurt the player if he “did not engage in sexual activity” with him.
According to TSN, two Blackhawks players told then-skills coach Paul Vincent in May 2010 of inappropriate behavior by Aldrich. Vincent said he asked mental skills coach James Gary to follow up with the players and management.
Vincent was called into a meeting with then-team President John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, hockey executive Al MacIsaac and Gary the next day. He said he asked the team to report the allegations to Chicago police, and the request was denied.
In an email to the AP, Vincent said he stands by everything he said to TSN. An attorney for Aldrich told Chicago public radio station WBEZ that his client denies the allegations in the lawsuit. In a May statement to the radio station, the Blackhawks said the allegations directed at it were groundless.
After leaving the Blackhawks, Aldrich was convicted in 2013 in Michigan of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a student and is now on that state’s registry of sex offenders, WBEZ reported in a series of stories based on legal filings, police records and interviews.
The former student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting filed a separate lawsuit against the Blackhawks on May 26, saying the Blackhawks provided positive references to future employers of Aldrich despite allegations from at least one player and took no action to report the matter.
That suit says the student was a hockey player at Houghton High School near Hancock in 2013 when Aldrich sexually assaulted him at an end-of-season gathering.
Houghton police records obtained by WBEZ say investigators reached out to the Blackhawks about Aldrich but its front office would confirm only that he was once an employee.
Susan Loggans, an attorney who represents the former player and student, said she welcomed the decision by the Blackhawks to launch an independent review.
“They've denied this all along, including to me before I ever filed suit, so I'm happy that they're at least going this far,” she said.
Miami University in Ohio also has opened an investigation. Aldrich was director of hockey operations at the school after leaving the Blackhawks but resigned in 2012 “under suspicion of unwanted touching of a male adult,” the university’s attorney told police, according to WBEZ.
More from Monday's NHL
► Bettman casts doubt on NHL players going to Beijing Olympcs
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said time is running out to reach a deal to send players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, casting doubt on the league's return to that event after skipping it in 2018.
The league, players' union, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation continue to negotiate with the Olympics seven months away. Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Monday night that the pandemic and disruption to next season are among the concerns, along with the lack of an agreement.
“We have real concerns about whether it’s sensible,” Bettman said, noting the league will go if a deal can be reached. “We’re getting to be on a rather short timeframe."
Bettman added time is running short on making a commitment, with the NHL hoping to release its schedule for next season before the July 23 draft.
“We’re already past the time that we hoped this would be resolved,” he said during his annual pre-Stanley Cup Final availability with the media. “We'll deal with it, just as we've managed to be agile and flexible over the last 15 months. But we're getting to be on a rather short time frame now, because this can't go on indefinitely.”
Daly called discussions with Olympic officials as a work in progress. Among the outstanding issues for the NHL and the NHL Players' Association are health insurance and travel costs as well as access to marketing rights.
The NHL has also expressed concern over the benefit of shutting down its regular season for two weeks when the Olympics are held in Asia. Games are played in the early morning hours in North America due to the time difference.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel told The Associated Press he hoped a resolution can be reached with the NHL and its players to compete in Beijing. He said the NHL currently has two schedules in place for next season, one featuring an Olympic break and another one not.
“Things are going back and forth, but no stress. We’ll see,” Fasel said by phone. “I cannot speak for the NHL and I just hope they will say they will come. That’s it.”
► Weekend in Vegas
The league announced it will hold All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas in 2022, with exact dates to be determined.
► Classic returns
The Minnesota Wild will host St. Louis in the 13th Winter Classic at Target Field, the home of Major League Baseball's Twins, on Jan. 1. The Wild had been awarded the 2021 showcase but the schedule was shortened to 56 games and play didn't begin until late January. The Wild hosted an outdoor game in 2016, against Chicago at the University of Minnesota’s football stadium.
The NHL Stadium Series will see Nashville hosting Tampa Bay on Feb. 26 at Nissan Stadium, the home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.