Wednesday's NHL: Blackhawks scandal raises culture questions

By Jay Cohen
Associated Press

Chicago — For three weeks in 2010, they did nothing. That's how long it took for the leadership of the Chicago Blackhawks to act on allegations that an assistant coach sexually assaulted a player.

Three weeks. Three weeks that — more than a decade later — rocked a once-proud franchise and raised more questions about the culture of sports.

In the span of 107 pages, featuring interviews with 139 witnesses, more than 100 gigabytes of electronic records and 49 boxes of hard-copy records, a report by an outside law firm detailed how senior leaders of the Blackhawks seemingly ignored the sexual assault accusations raised with the franchise days before the team won its first Stanley Cup title since 1961.

The ramifications of the independent review, commissioned by the team in response to two lawsuits, stretched into several corners of the NHL, which fined the Blackhawks $2 million for “the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response.”

Florida coach Joel Quenneville is slated to meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday, and Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is planning to talk to the commissioner on Monday. Both were with the Blackhawks when the accusations by Kyle Beach were first reported to team leadership.

According to the report, Donald Fehr, the leader of the NHL players' association, was contacted twice about allegations connected to the assistant coach, including by a Beach confidant. Fehr told investigators he couldn't recall either conversation, but did not deny that they had occurred.

Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz, the son of team chairman Rocky Wirtz, met with current players Wednesday, a day after the graphic report was released, leading to the departures of President of Hockey Operations Stan Bowman, pictured, and Al MacIsaac, another top executive.

Messages were left by the AP seeking comment from the NHLPA.

Beach, a 2008 first-round draft pick playing professionally in Germany, told TSN on Wednesday he felt “alone and dark” in the days following the alleged assault. He said he is only now beginning the healing process.

Beach, 31, had been referred to as John Doe in his lawsuit against the team and the Blackhawks' report. The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly.

In a statement attributed to the team, the Blackhawks commended Beach for his courage in coming forward, and reiterated the organization's “deepest apologies” for what he has gone through and its failure to promptly respond in 2010.

Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz, the son of team chairman Rocky Wirtz, met with current players Wednesday, a day after the graphic report was released, leading to the departures of President of Hockey Operations Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac, another top executive.

“I think the overriding message was that we, as in the organization, we're here for you,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “The family is behind us. The organization's behind us, and we're going to do everything we can to move forward here.”

Rocky Wirtz said Tuesday that he and Danny were first made aware of the accusations ahead of a May filing of a lawsuit by Beach alleging sexual assault by then-assistant coach Brad Aldrich in 2010. The team also is facing a second lawsuit by a former student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan.

The Blackhawks said their lawyers contacted Susan Loggans, an attorney who represents John Doe and the former student in the second lawsuit, on Tuesday about possible settlements. A call was set up for early next week.

According to the report, the encounter between Beach, then a 20-year-old minor leaguer called up in case the Blackhawks needed help in the playoffs, and Aldrich, then 27, occurred on May 8 or 9 in 2010.

Beach told investigators that Aldrich threatened him with a souvenir baseball bat before forcibly performing oral sex on him and masturbating on the player’s back, allegations that he also detailed in his lawsuit.

Aldrich told investigators the encounter was consensual. Asked Wednesday about the law firm's report, Aldrich responded: “I have nothing to say.”

About two weeks later, on May 23, 2010, right after Chicago advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, Bowman, MacIsaac, team president John McDonough, executive vice president Jay Blunk and assistant general manager Cheveldayoff met with Quenneville and mental skills coach Jim Gary to discuss the allegations.

Former federal prosecutor Reid Schar, who led the investigation, said accounts of the meeting “vary significantly.” But there was no evidence that anything was done about the accusations before McDonough contacted the team’s director of human resources on June 14 — a delay that violated the team's sexual harassment policy, according to Schar.

During those three weeks, Aldrich continued to work for and travel with the team. Schar said Aldrich also “made an unwanted sexual advance" toward a 22-year-old Blackhawks intern.

Beach told TSN seeing Aldrich around the team made him feel sick.

“I reported this and I was made aware that it made it all the way up the chain of command by (Jim Gary) and nothing happened,” Beach said. "It was like his life was the same as the day before. Same every day.

“And then when they won, to see him paraded around lifting the Cup, at the parade, at the team pictures, at celebrations, it made me feel like nothing.”

McDonough, Blunk and Gary are no longer employed in the NHL. Now Bowman and MacIsaac are out as well.

But the report makes clear that 11 years ago, winning the Cup took priority over taking immediate action on the Aldrich allegations: Bowman recalled that during the May 23 meeting, McDonough and Quenneville talked about the challenge of reaching the Stanley Cup Final and “a desire to focus on the team and the playoffs.”

Bowman's description of what happened was reminiscent of scandals at Baylor, where assault claims against football players were mishandled by school officials, or at USA Gymnastics, still reeling from its mishandling of convicted serial sex abuser and team doctor Larry Nassar.

Loggans said she hopes what happened with Chicago leads to changes across sports.

“There has to be a change from a mentality of complete animalism, like let's just completely ramp up the masculinity factor of these players and whatever it takes to win a game, we'll do that,” she said. “There has to be some context, no different than being concerned about concussions in football games.

“It's not winning at all costs. These are human beings. They're not gladiators whose lives are going to be sacrificed in the game.”

Quenneville's meeting with Bettman may decide Florida fate

Sunrise, Fla. — Joel Quenneville remained in place as coach of the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, one day before he travels to New York for a meeting with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that will likely determine if he can keep his job.

Meanwhile, the player who said he was sexually assaulted by a member of Quenneville's Chicago coaching staff in May 2010 went public with his identity — he's former first-round pick Kyle Beach — and said he's certain Quenneville knew about the allegations when they were made during the Blackhawks' run to the Stanley Cup that season.

“There’s absolutely no way that he can deny knowing it," Beach told TSN.

FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2020, file photo, Florida Panthers head coach and former Chicago Blackhawks coach, Joel Quenneville, responds to a question during his first visit back to Chicago as a head coach before an NHL hockey game between the Blackhawks and Panthers.

An investigation, the results of which were released Tuesday, found that the allegations Beach made against then-assistant Brad Aldrich were largely ignored by the team for three weeks after a May 23, 2010, meeting discussing them took place.

That was the same day Chicago finished off a four-game sweep of San Jose to reach the Stanley Cup final, and Beach told TSN that based on what others involved have said he believes that Quenneville thought “trying to win a Stanley Cup was more important than sexual assault."

Beach said a meeting about his claims — it was not clear which one he was referring to — took place in Quenneville's office.

“I hope through and through that Gary Bettman takes this seriously and that he does his due diligence ... before he makes his decision," Beach told TSN.

Beach's interview aired in Canada about an hour before the Panthers played host to the Boston Bruins. Quenneville was behind the bench with his team for the game, like usual.

How much longer he'll have the job is most uncertain.

The Panthers were off to a flying start this season, beginning 6-0-0 for the first time in franchise history entering Wednesday. Then came Tuesday, when Quenneville was named in the report, and the Panthers suddenly had a major issue on their hands.

“Our focus is on the ice,” Florida defenseman Brandon Montour insisted Wednesday, before the game.

Quenneville read from a prepared statement after the team’s morning skate Wednesday, saying he could not discuss the specifics because the investigation is ongoing.

The success Quenneville had in Chicago — three Stanley Cups — was why Florida brought him in to coach the Panthers a little over two seasons ago. He's one of the biggest reasons why this Florida team believes it, finally, can win a title.

Quenneville is the second-winningest coach in NHL history, his 968 victories trailing only the 1,244 amassed by Scotty Bowman — the father of now-former Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, who resigned Tuesday when the investigation's findings were released.

Quenneville was brought into Florida to turn around a long-struggling franchise, one that had cycled through 15 coaches in 25 seasons, including five in a six-season span before Quenneville was hired.

“He’s going to be the coach that’s going to bring us to the Cup,” Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said when Quenneville was hired in 2019.

It remains most uncertain if Quenneville will still have a chance to prove Huberdeau right.

Lightning's Kucherov out 8-10 weeks after undergoing surgery

Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov is expected to be out 8-10 weeks after undergoing an unspecified surgery for an unspecified lower-body injury.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions announced Kucherov's prognosis with no additional details Wednesday. The timeframe would mean Kucherov could be back playing just before or after the New Year.

Kucherov was injured Oct. 16 in Tampa Bay’s third game of the season. He doubled over in pain after an innocent-looking collision in the third period of the Lightning’s game at Washington.

Coach Jon Cooper said two days later that Kucherov would be out for a while. The team put Kucherov on long-term injured reserve not long after.

Kucherov was Tampa Bay’s leading scorer on each of the past two Stanley Cup runs. He missed the entire regular season last year recovering from hip surgery and returned for the first game of the playoffs.

Now 28, Kucherov won the Hart Trophy as MVP in 2018-19 when he led the NHL with 87 assists and 128 points. After winning the Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team, the Lightning were swept by Columbus in the first round of the playoffs — a defeat Cooper and others credit to Kucherov adjusting his game.

Kucherov was still more than a point-a-game player the following season with 85 in 68 games before the pandemic shutdown. He led all players in the 2020 postseason bubble with 34 points.

The combination of a hip injury that required surgery late in 2020 and the shortened, condensed 56-game schedule for 2021 perfectly aligned for the Lightning to stash Kucherov's $9.5 million salary cap for the entire season. That allowed them to keep together most of their core and add at the deadline, setting them up to be the first back-to-back Cup champions since Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017 with Kucherov back and playing at a high level.

Tampa Bay has been inconsistent early this season, before and after Kucherov's injury. The Lightning did not have a regulation win until beating the Penguins on Tuesday night.

Kucherov has 678 points in 361 NHL regular-season and playoff games during his career. One thing missing from his resume is playing at the Olympics, and Kucherov was named one of the Russians' first three roster picks for the upcoming 2022 Games in Beijing.