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Kitchener Rangers settle out of court with Michigan newspaper

Sunaya Sapurji
Yahoo Sports

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With the cross-border battle over, Jets prospect Jacob Trouba will join the Michigan Wolverines this fall.

Looks like there won’t be any courtroom drama involving the Kitchener Rangers and The Michigan Daily after all.

The two sides reached a settlement on Friday afternoon. As part of the agreement, the University of Michigan newspaper published a clarification regarding a July 2 story which alleged -- based on an anonymous OHL source – that the Rangers had offered Winnipeg Jets prospect Jacob Trouba $200,000 to play in the Ontario Hockey League this season. The original story, written by reporter Matt Slovin, was also removed from the paper’s website.

"The Michigan Daily has removed the article that caused the Kitchener Rangers to commence legal proceedings against the newspaper and the reporter, Matt Slovin,” said Rangers chief operating officer Steve Bienkowski. “As they have acceded to what was from the outset the Kitchener Rangers' primary demand, we are discontinuing the legal proceedings as against the newspaper and Mr. Slovin.”

A payment like the one Kitchener was alleged to have offered Trouba, who has committed to play at Michigan, would contravene the Ontario Hockey League’s rules regarding player benefits. Last Friday OHL commissioner Dave Branch admitted that the Rangers were investigated by league enforcement officer Ken Miller as a result of the story.

“On the Trouba matter we instructed (Miller) to investigate, which he did fully,” Branch told Yahoo! Sports last week. “His report and recommendation was that there was no substance at all to the allegations, so that matter is closed.”

[Related: Drafted junior players to play in the AHL if there's a lockout?]

In addition, the day after the newspaper’s story ran, the Trouba family issued a statement via the University of Michigan denying that Jacob had ever been offered money to join the Rangers.

“There is absolutely no truth or merit to the recent media reports that the Kitchener Rangers have offered Jacob any remuneration,” said the statement in part.

But when the Daily updated their original story to include the statement from the Troubas, the above line refuting the payment was missing. The newspaper, in their clarification, blamed the omission of that important detail on an “editing error” which was eventually corrected two days later.

The Daily clarifies here that, while it was at the time reporting a story of importance to the Michigan sports community, and that its source made the claims reported in the story, if all of the facts had been known to the Daily, including the denials that were not initially reported, and the subsequent OHL investigation that found no violation, the Daily would not have published the story,” read the statement.

When asked why the newspaper issued a clarification, as opposed to a retraction or a correction, lawyer Herschel Fink said the reasoning was self-explanatory.

“But I think I would say that subsequent developments after the Daily story first appeared made clarification appropriate,” said Fink, who noted that the discussion between the parties had been ongoing for some time. “And that’s what the Daily did, and by the same token those same subsequent developments made the original story no longer accurate, so it was removed.”

 [Related: OHL slaps Spitfires for breaking league recruitment rules]

The lawsuit became a lightning rod for fans, media, and law professionals alike. The Rangers filed their lawsuit in a Kitchener, Ont., court despite the fact that Slovin and the newspaper are based in the United States where libel laws are much different.

“I think that anytime you can resolve a potentially complicated piece of litigation – particularly as here – one that involves international conflict of law issues and does so by issuing a clarifying statement which, in any event had become appropriate to do, it’s obviously in the interest of all parties to do so,” said Fink. “And that’s what we did.”

Kitchener’s legal wrangling isn’t exactly over, though, as the team said it’s planning to sue the third party named in their defamation suit – the anonymous OHL source – identified as “John Doe” in their statement of claim.

“Although truth would be a complete defence to the libel action,” said Bienkowski in Friday’s statement. “We fully expect that the source will not have the courage to step forward, as there is not a shred of truth to the allegation, as the Ontario Hockey League investigation has now confirmed.”

As far as his clients are concerned, Fink said they’re just happy to have this summer saga end.

“It’s never pleasant to be sued and they’re young people,” said Fink of the students working at the newspaper. “I’m sure they’re happy to have it put behind them.”

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