Bettman on Blackhawks' assault allegations: First reaction was 'Tell me the facts'

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says allegations that a former Chicago Blackhawks player was sexually assaulted by a then-assistant coach are concerning.

But his first thought was: "Tell me the facts."

Speaking at the league's annual media availability prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final Monday, Bettman said he learned "relatively recently" about the allegations.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly added the NHL was informed by the Blackhawks' general counsel.

Chicago has hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an independent review of the allegations, which come after two lawsuits were filed against the club.

The first alleges sexual assault by former assistant coach Bradley Aldrich during the team's 2010 run that ended with a Stanley Cup triumph, while the second was filed by a former student Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan.

The Athletic was first to report news of the independent review. None of the allegations have been tested in court.

"The reaction whenever you hear allegations like that are concerning, but my first reaction is: 'Tell me the facts,'" Bettman said during the virtual press conference at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. "Once we know what the facts are we're in a better position to evaluate what may or may not need to be done."

Bettman declined to say if the findings of the investigation by law firm Jenner & Block LLP — which he said has no connection to the league or team — would be made public, instead reserving judgment until it's conclusion.

Asked about what punishment could potentially be handed down, Bettman said: "All options are available."

The unidentified former Blackhawk alleges Aldrich sexually assaulted him and Chicago did nothing when he informed a now-retired employee.

After leaving the Original Six franchise, Aldrich was convicted in 2013 of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in Michigan involving a student.

Inaction by the Blackhawks helped enable Aldrich to go on and assault the Michigan student, and possibly others, said Susan Loggans, the former player's lawyer.

"This entire man's life has been destroyed," Loggans told Chicago public radio station WBEZ. "These professional athletes have to function at the top of their game at all times in order to be competitive, and these things are really debilitating."

The lawsuit, filed on May 7 in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges Aldrich also assaulted another unidentified Blackhawks player.

According to TSN, two Chicago players told then-skills coach Paul Vincent in May 2010 of inappropriate behaviour by Aldrich.

Vincent told TSN he urged team executives, including team president John McDonough and general manager Stan Bowman, to report the allegations to Chicago police, but his request was rejected.

"I feel a weight has been lifted off of me," Vincent said to TSN. "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."

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, who was the Blackhawks' director of player personnel at the time, said Sunday before his team travelled to Tampa to take on the Lightning in the final that he was unaware of the allegations during his time with the club.

A lawyer for Aldrich told WBEZ his client denies the allegations in the lawsuit.

The eight-page suit alleges Aldrich, then a video coach for the Blackhawks, "turned on porn and began to masturbate in front of" the player without his consent. It alleges Aldrich also threatened to "physically, financially and emotionally" hurt the player if he "did not engage in sexual activity" with him.

In a May statement to WBEZ, team spokesman Adam Rogowin said the Blackhawks were confident they would "be absolved of any wrongdoing."

Peppered with questions on the issue at his Monday press conference, Bettman stressed the need for patience.

"What we know is based on what's public," the commissioner said. "That's why we're going to be interested to see what the investigation reveals and doesn't reveal. Everybody needs to not get ahead of themselves. These are allegations that relate to a period of time that's quite some time ago, and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to piece things together.

"When we have all the information, we will do what is necessary and appropriate."

OLYMPIC QUESTION MARK

It looked all but assured the NHL was heading back to the Olympics after coming to an agreement on a return-to-play plan and an extension of the collective bargaining agreement that paved the way for the conclusion of the pandemic-hit 2019-20 season.

Now things look a lot less certain for Beijing 2022.

"Still very much a work in progress," Daly said. "Time is running very short. Hopefully we'll have some resolution soon."

Along with worry about travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the league has always held the view the Olympics were an unnecessary disruption to its schedule, but took part from 1998 through 2014.

The NHL skipped the 2018 Games, but agreed with the players to work towards a return in 2022 and 2026.

"We have real concerns about whether or not it's sensible," Bettman said. "We made a promise that if it can all be worked out then we'll go along with it.

"But we are concerned both about the timing right now and about the open issues and the prospects of actually being there."

REFS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Bettman went out of his way to praise NHL referees during his opening remarks in the wake of mounting criticism at the missed — or ignored — infractions throughout the playoffs.

"They are the best officials in any sport," he said. "Our officials have the hardest game to officiate because no sport comes close to matching the speed and split-second reaction time required."

Bettman added the style of game differs from the regular season to the playoffs "and that has an obvious impact on how officiating is perceived."

"When you're watching it on television and replay, or you're watching it from 100 or so feet off the ice (you) get a broader view," he said. "You have to look at it from the perspective of the officials on the ice, and what they get to see in real time.

"I wouldn't minimize the difficulty of that task."

FOND MEMORIES OF '93

Bettman has handed out the Stanley Cup on 27 occasions since becoming commissioner.

Each is special, but his first — Montreal, and Canada's, last title in 1993 — remains front of mind.

"I remember that night in 1993 like it was yesterday," Bettman said. "It was exciting, it was compelling.

"It was, I would dare say, overwhelming."

-With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2021.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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