There’s a dark cloud hanging over the Stanley Cup final.
It demands that several voices — including Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff — be heard regarding a historic sexual assault case surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks that only recently came to light. It also includes the NHL, which has offered no substantial comment and doesn’t appear to even be investigating the scandal. That must change immediately, starting with today’s availability with commissioner Gary Bettman prior to puck drop between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.
This is far more important than a game, regardless of the big hockey stage and high stakes. As TSN’s Rick Westhead first reported last week, two Chicago players reported being abused by video coach Brad Aldrich in May 2010. One of those former skaters filed a lawsuit against the club last month, alleging a coverup after it was reported to management. This paved the way for Aldrich to molest a teenage boy on a high school team years later.
Then-skills coach Paul Vincent told TSN he informed then-president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, executive Al MacIsaac and skills coach James Gary about the incident, but they rejected his request to report the incident to the police. In the lawsuit, the player claims Gary suggested he was to blame.
"I will stand up in court and say what happened. I know what the team did to cover this up and coming forward was the right thing to do," Vincent, an ex-cop, told Westhead.
Former Chicago associate coach John Torchetti and former defencemen Brent Sopel and Nick Boynton have all confirmed this was well-known within the organization.
"I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when Paul told me what the players had said to him," Torchetti told TSN. "We talked about it and he said, with the players’ permission, he had to go and take this to management to be dealt with."
And yet, the matter apparently never made it beyond that meeting. Bowman, MacIsaac and Gary are still employed by Chicago. McDonough was fired last year by chairman W. Rockwell "Rocky" Wirtz.
"The front office staff should be in jail,’’ Sopel wrote on his Twitter account last week. ‘‘The NHL is showing (their) true colours. Gary (Bettman) doesn’t care about anybody but himself. This is absolutely disgusting that the NHL is doing nothing.’’
There is no indication anyone else was present for the meeting. Cheveldayoff was assistant GM of Chicago at the time, and the Jets have declined requests for comment this week, suggesting all inquiries should be directed to the Blackhawks, who cite ongoing civil matters for their silence. Same goes for the Florida Panthers, where then-coach Joel Quenneville now works in the same capacity.
Winnipegger Jonathan Toews was captain of that team, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, while former Jets players Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd were members.
"Every guy on the team knew about it. Every single guy on the team knew," an unidentified former player told The Athletic last week.
Marc Bergevin, currently the GM of the Montreal Canadiens, was asked about it on Sunday morning during a Zoom availability as part of Stanley Cup media day, denying any knowledge or culpability.
"It came out recently. There was a meeting that I’ve heard that was done in Chicago. I was not part of any meeting and I was not part of any decision based on that. I was not aware of what was going on at the time. So you can go on the record with that," said Bergevin, who was director of player personnel during that 2009-10 season.
This incident would be horrific enough as a standalone. But it takes another sinister turn, as Aldrich left Chicago during the summer of 2010 and landed other hockey jobs, thanks largely to a positive letter of reference the Blackhawks provided him.
In 2012, Aldrich resigned as director of hockey operations at Miami University "under suspicion of unwanted touching of a male adult." The college has now brought in an outside law firm to conduct an investigation. In 2013, Aldrich was convicted of abusing a 16-year-old high school hockey player after joining the staff of a high school team as a volunteer coach. He was later given nine months in jail and five years probation.
The victim told police Aldrich attacked him following a team party, climbing into his bed and forcing oral sex after earlier plying him with alcohol. He has also filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks, saying they ‘‘provided positive references to future employers for Bradley Aldrich despite having knowledge of his sexual assaults."
In the other statement of claim, the former Chicago player suing the organization said Aldrich sent inappropriate text messages, viewed pornography and masturbated in front of him, and threatened to injure him "physically, financially and emotionally...if he did not engage in sexual activity."
"The NHL must immediately commission an independent investigation of what occurred. There should be no other option. This is now the biggest story in all of professional sports," player agent Allan Walsh, who represents some of the biggest names in the game, said Sunday.
Sadly, these types of stories have become all-too-familiar in the hockey world. And a cone of silence is also commonplace, as colleague Jeff Hamilton recently documented in these pages in his eye-opening "A Stain On Our Game" series that looked at how former junior coach Graham James used his platform to sexually abuse multiple players.
There was a connection to the Jets in that case, too. Cheveldayoff’s right-hand man, assistant general manager Craig Heisinger, had an association with James early in his career.
As a teen, Heisinger played for the James-coached bantam and midget St. James Canadians. When James took over as coach of the Fort Garry Blues in 1980, he gave Heisinger his first post-playing job as a part-time equipment manager with the team. The two then worked together on the Winnipeg Warriors — James was an assistant coach — and Heisinger was later a stakeholder in the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, at the time it was owned and coached by James.
Recently, a former player with the Warriors recently filed an affidavit as part of a lawsuit by former junior hockey players against the Canadian Hockey League. In it, he described hazing he experienced during the Warriors’ final season here, claiming coaches and team staff were aware of these acts and did nothing to stop them.
The equipment manager for the Warriors that season was Heisinger. The club, like they did last week, declined comment. That civil matter remains before the courts. Heisinger also declined to speak with Hamilton for his investigative series on James, which included interviews with dozens of former players and hockey officials.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.