Content Warning: Sexual Assault
This past May, a former Chicago Blackhawks player filed a lawsuit against the team alleging that he and a teammate were sexually assaulted by the team’s video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010, and that the team completely ignored their claims. The Blackhawks’ initial response was to dismiss the allegations as baseless — the team has spent the last five months attempting to find loopholes to get themselves out of the situation.
However, the results of an independent investigation conducted by the law firm Jenner & Block released on Tuesday, Oct. 26, found that senior Blackhawks executives held a meeting to discuss the allegations shortly after they were reported and deliberately chose to keep them quiet so as not to distract from the remainder of the postseason. The report has led to a number of resignations from high-level team executives who were present for the meeting, and the aftermath has shaken the whole league’s core, prompting questions about the NHL’s commitment to accountability and the safety of its players.
The events described in the lawsuit took place during the 2009-10 season, during which the Blackhawks went on to win their first Stanley Cup since 1961. The plaintiff, who was originally listed as “John Doe” but just this week revealed himself to be Canadian winger Kyle Beach, claims that Aldrich, who was employed as a video coach at the time, got Beach drunk and tried to perform oral sex on him. Beach reported Aldrich’s behavior to skills coach Paul Vincent, who was formerly in law enforcement, just before the start of the Western Conference Finals. Vincent subsequently informed the team’s leadership group, which consisted of team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac and mental-skills coach James Gary, and he advised the group to thoroughly investigate the situation in accordance with team policy and file a report with the Chicago Police.
However, no report was ever filed. The meeting to discuss the allegations was held on May 23, 2010 following the Blackhawks’ series win against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals, in which the aforementioned leadership group was present, along with executive vice president Jay Blunk, assistant general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and Head Coach Joel Quenneville. At a minimum, all who were present were informed of the allegations.
A discussion took place during this meeting regarding whether it was the right time to address the allegations in light of the upcoming Stanley Cup Final. The report notes that McDonough and Quenneville cited the challenge of reaching the finals and a desire to focus on the team and their task at hand. Ultimately, no action was taken, and Aldrich was allowed to continue his duties as video coach for the Western Conference Finals and the six games of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. After the Blackhawks won, Aldrich was allowed to pose with the team on the ice with the cup following their overtime victory in Game Six, was present for the team’s Cup parade in Chicago and is in the official team photo from the morning of the parade. Aldrich was also allowed to have a day with the Cup, as all members of the winning organization are, and his name is still engraved on the Cup to this day. Following the parade, Aldrich quietly left the team and, from the Blackhawks perspective, was never heard from again.
After leaving the team following the 2010 season, Aldrich joined the coaching staff of a boys high school hockey team in Houghton, Michigan as a volunteer assistant coach. An extraordinarily unusual step down from the NHL, Aldrich claimed to be burnt out by the massive commitment that the NHL requires. His first stint was incident free, and he later took a job as a video coach for the Miami (Ohio) University hockey team in 2012, only to abruptly leave the team after only four months on their coaching staff. The details as to why he chose to leave are unclear, although Miami University has conducted their own investigation of Aldrich’s conduct while working for the school in the time since the allegations against him have surfaced.
Following his time at Miami, Aldrich returned to Houghton to once again work as a volunteer coach for the 2012-13 season. But this stint was not like the first: in December 2013, Aldrich pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with a student between 16 and 18 years old. He was sentenced to nine months in Houghton County Jail and five years of probation and is now a registered sex offender in Michigan. A second lawsuit against the Blackhawks was filed in May of this year by Aldrich’s victim in Houghton, alleging that the Blackhawks organization failed to properly respond and investigate the allegations of sexual assault against Aldrich and chose to provide positive references for future employers.
Beach came forward publicly as “John Doe” on Wednesday, Oct. 27, the day after the results of the investigation were released, in a comprehensive but difficult-to-watch interview with TSN. In the interview, Beach said that he chose to pursue legal action after learning about the teenage victim in 2013. He added that he feels like he didn’t do enough to bring Aldrich to justice and that the abuse of the 16-year-old was somehow his fault.
Beach was only 20 years old at the time of the assault and was just a “Black Ace,” a minor league player who was called up for the playoffs and was likely not going to be playing in any games, barring major injuries to other players. Beach was an up-and-coming prospect — the 11th overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft — but his promising career was entirely derailed by the attempted assault. In training camps following the 2010 season, Beach was constantly associated with having character issues and was deemed lazy by his coaches. He also spoke of being the recipient of hurtful homophobic comments from his teammates, alleging that virtually every member of the team knew about the situation. Beach never played a game in the NHL and is currently playing in a third-tier league in Germany at the age of 31.
The events that took place during the 2010 season were obviously drastically life altering for Beach. “I buried this for 10 years, 11 years, and it’s destroyed me from the inside out,” said Beach in the interview, his voice cracking. “I felt like I was alone and there was nothing I could do and nobody I could turn to for help.” He also noted that he turned to alcohol and drugs at one point in his life as a way to numb the pain and acted out in ways that he otherwise never could have imagined doing.
When the results of the investigation were made public, both Bowman and MacIsaac, who were still with the Blackhawks, resigned from their positions on Oct. 26. Quenneville, who at the start of this season was the head coach of the currently unbeaten Florida Panthers, has also stepped down, though he waited until Thursday, Oct. 28 after coaching in the Panthers game on Wednesday night. The investigative report evidently was not enough to cause Quenneville to step down, as the interview with Beach, in which Beach indignantly called Quenneville out for believing that “trying to win a Stanley Cup was more important than sexual assault,” seems to be what sparked his resignation. Quenneville is currently second in wins among coaches in NHL history, behind only general manager Stan Bowman’s father Scotty, and was beloved in Chicago, but his obsession with winning over everything else essentially nullifies what should have been a lasting legacy. Earlier this year, Quenneville was steadfast in his assertion that he was unaware of Aldrich’s actions the entire time he was employed by the Blackhawks organization, and he even wrote a glowing performance review for Aldrich following the 2010 season.
The only other executive who was present in the 2010 meeting and still currently works in the NHL is Cheveldayoff, who is now the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets. Following a meeting with NHL commissioner Gay Bettman on Friday, the league released a statement concluding that Cheveldayoff is not responsible for the decisions made by the Blackhawks and thus will not face any disciplinary actions.
The Chicago Blackhawks are one of the most storied franchises in the NHL. An Original Six team, the Blackhawks were nothing short of a powerhouse in the early 2010s, winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. All of these victories are now greatly tarnished, as it is clear that the organization placed team success above the safety of individual players. The league now faces a critical juncture concerning how best to proceed.
As Beach said in his interview, “The NHL has let me down and they’ve let down others as well, but they continue to try and protect their name over the health and the well-being of the people who put their lives on the line every day to make the NHL what it is.” The Blackhawks and the NHL failed Beach in a way that cannot be repaired, and the league will continue to fail its players unless concrete steps are taken to enact structural changes rather than simply issuing empty statements regarding the matter.