Canadian NHL stars weigh in on a summer of Hockey Canada scandals: 'It's sad'

·5 min read

HENDERSON, Nev. — Connor McDavid has answered the call to wear Canada's red Maple Leaf throughout his career.

The same goes for Nathan MacKinnon.

And like the rest of the country, the two stars watched from afar as a scandal-filled summer unfolded for Hockey Canada — the sport's national governing body — after news broke of an alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2018 world junior team.

"I'm very proud to be Canadian, very proud to represent Hockey Canada," McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers captain, said Thursday at the NHL/NHLPA player media tour just outside Las Vegas.

"A situation that is terrible for everybody."

Hockey Canada has been under intense scrutiny since the alleged sexual assault following a 2018 gala in London, Ont., involving eight unidentified players — including members of that year's world junior team — and subsequent hushed settlement were revealed in May.

Allegations of gang sexual assault involving the 2003 world junior team then emerged in July.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

"It's sad," said MacKinnon, who won the Stanley Cup with his Colorado Avalanche in June. "There's no place for that.

"I don't know all the investigation stuff, but whatever happened wasn't OK — that's the main thing."

It also came to light that Hockey Canada kept a so-called National Equity Fund maintained by registrations fees from across the country to, in part, pay out uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims, since the 1990s.

The organization has said it will no longer use the fund for that purpose.

Hockey Canada had federal funding cut off in the wake of its handling of the 2018 case and settlement, a number of corporations paused sponsorship dollars, and politicians have called for regime change, including the firing of president and CEO Scott Smith.

In response to the firestorm, the organization released an action plan aimed at addressing systemic issues in hockey and has reopened its third-party investigation into the 2018 incident, as have police in London. The NHL is also investigating.

Colorado defenceman Cale Makar, who was a member of the 2018 world junior team, but previously stated he wasn't involved in the alleged incident, spoke with investigators in its immediate aftermath, and will do so again.

"I'm completely open-book," Makar said. "I'll be ready for whatever. Whatever they need, basically, I'll be there."

The reigning Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's top blue-liner said he spoke with his parents over the summer about the Hockey Canada situation, including its National Equity Fund.

"You think about even myself coming up through minor hockey," said the 23-year-old, who also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after helping Colorado to its second title. "My parents talk about all the fees that they paid Hockey Canada and yada yada for me to be able to play, and then for all this stuff to come out, I can only imagine the amount of parents that were thinking, 'Oh, this is where my fees are going.'

"It's obviously a very tough look. The identity and the culture definitely needs to be changed. It's just that time."

OILERS READY TO RUN IT BACK

Edmonton took a big step last spring by making the Western Conference final for the first time since 2006 before bowing out to MacKinnon, Makar and the Avalanche in a resounding four-game sweep.

"There's another step," McDavid said. "There's a whole other level to get to."

Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft, a mid-season hire to replace Dave Tippett, will get a full training camp with a group looking to take that next step.

"He did a great job coming in," McDavid said of the rookie bench boss. "That's never easy on a coach. I'm sure there's things that he wanted to touch on that he wasn't able to in the middle of the year.

"He'll be able to touch on all of it this year … looking forward to a camp with him."

Edmonton signed Jack Campbell in free agency from the Toronto Maple Leafs in hopes of solidifying the goaltending position and brought back winger Evander Kane after a successful audition last season.

The Oilers, however, also lost two key veteran pieces in the locker room with the retirement of Duncan Keith and goaltender Mike Smith set to land on long-term injured reserve this season.

"We're certainly going to miss them and their leadership," McDavid said. "(But) there's a lot more leaders in that room than people realize.

"We've got a solid room."

MACKINNON, AVS CLOSE ON CONTRACT

MacKinnon, who's heading into the final season of arguably the league's most-team friendly deal, said he's optimistic about getting a contract extension signed soon.

"We're pretty close," MacKinnon said. "There's no other place I want to be."

The centre signed an eight-year, US$44.1-million contract with Colorado ahead of the 2016 season, and has been viewed as the NHL's most underpaid star for quite sometime.

"It's not what you want, that's for sure," MacKinnon said with a smile of the title. "It's not the title you're looking for.

"I'm glad we won a Cup though."

He would also consider taking less again to do his part to keep the Avalanche's core intact.

"The deal I sign will be fair," MacKinnon said. "It's not going to be a single digit (salary cap hit) or anything, but it'll be good, I think, for both sides.

"Denver's the only place I want to be."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2022.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press