Friday's NHL: NHLPA investigation concludes Fehr not at fault in Beach situation

Stephen Whyno
Associated Press

An independent investigation commissioned by the NHL Players' Association found that executive director Don Fehr and others were not responsible for wrongdoing when they failed to act on a report that a Chicago Blackhawks player had been sexually assaulted by a staff member in 2010.

A law firm hired to look into the Fehr and the union’s actions in 2010 and 2011 concluded miscommunication and misunderstanding were behind the lack of action after Kyle Beach reported being assaulted by video coach Brad Aldrich.

FILE - An independent investigation commissioned by the NHL Players' Association found that executive director Don Fehr and others were not responsible for wrongdoing when they failed to act on a report that a Chicago Blackhawks player had been sexually assaulted by a staff member in 2010.

"Ultimately, the failure to act on Beach’s reports stems from a failure of communication," the firm Cozen O'Connor wrote in a 20-page report released by the NHLPA on Friday. “We cannot identify any individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure by either Fehr, NHLPA personnel, or the (NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program) concerning the handling of Beach’s reports.”

The NHLPA executive board was shown the report last week. Players voted in favor of making it public.

The union launched the investigation in November after an independent probe into the Blackhawks' mishandling of the allegations raised questions about what Fehr and others knew at the time and why they did not act. Aldrich told investigators then that the encounter was consensual, but the scandal rocked the Blackhawks and led to sweeping changes in the front office and ripple effects across the NHL.

The latest investigation included reviews of about 20,000 emails and phone records from 2010 and 2011 and included interviews of 11 witnesses, including Dr. Brian Shaw from the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Beach and an unidentified player who reported having inappropriate conversations with Aldrich both declined to be interviewed.

The firm acknowledged the difficulty of reconstructing events from 11 years ago, and said the findings were based on “understandably imperfect and incomplete recollections of a few individuals, uncorroborated by documentary evidence.” The report also acknowledged the likelihood of witness recollections being “unavoidably influenced" by a separate report that looked into the team's role.

Agent Ross Gurney told investigators he was sure he described Aldrich as a "pedophile” or “sexual predator” in a conversation with Fehr to warn him about Aldrich's behavior after the coach was hired by USA Hockey to work at a tournament.

Fehr said he would have recalled that if it happened. He repeatedly told investigators he had no recollection of being notified of the incident when it happened. Investigators also determined Fehr’s few comments regarding about the allegations “were consistent with his claim."

Shaw told investigators he believed his conversation with Beach was “privileged communication between a prospective patient and therapist” and that he was unable to reveal the contents without the player's consent, which he claimed to have not received.

The firm said it provided the union's general counsel with a series of recommendations for additional measures that could be put in place to handle similar situations better in the future. The NHLPA did not immediately respond to a message inquiring about those recommendations, which were not listed in the report.

Montreal goalie Carey Price returns vs. Islanders

Montreal — Goaltender Carey Price will make his season debut for the Montreal Canadiens against the New York Islanders on Friday night, stepping into the crease for his first game since Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final in July.

Price spent months recovering from off-season knee surgery, but paused his rehabilitation after voluntarily entering the NHL’s player assistance program last fall. He has said he entered the program for substance abuse and in January noted his career could be in jeopardy.

FILE - Goaltender Carey Price will make his season debut for the Montreal Canadiens against the New York Islanders on Friday night, stepping into the crease for his first game since Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final in July.

Instead, the seven-time All-Star and NHL MVP in 2015 will take the ice for the last-place Canadiens, who have eight games remaining and have surrendered a league-high 284 goals this season.

“There’s a saying that champions are built when no one is looking,” coach Martin St. Louis said Friday. “A player’s success, for the fans, is judged on the ice, but the player has to do a lot of things to be successful on the ice — often alone, when no one is watching or cheering him on.”

Price has spent his entire 14-season NHL career with the Canadiens.