Bettman plans 'thorough' investigation of 2018 alleged sexual assault

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in Calgary, Alta. on May 3, 2022. (CP/file)

MONTREAL — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is determined to conduct a more comprehensive investigation of the alleged sexual assault of a woman by eight Canadian Hockey League players.

Hockey Canada’s own exploration of the incident, by third-party investigator Henein Hutchison LLP, failed to identify the players.

“We're going to try and do as thorough investigation as possible to see if we can learn more than obviously Hockey Canada was able to make us aware of, either because they didn't have the information or there was some limitations,” Bettman said Thursday, ahead of the NHL Draft at Bell Centre.

“Our goal is to get to the bottom of this and get a full understanding as to what actually happened by whom.”

Hockey Canada, its finances, and the organization’s internal reporting structure have been in the spotlight since the June 2018 allegations first became public in May with the settlement of a lawsuit brought forth by a woman who says she was sexually assaulted in a London, Ont. hotel room by eight CHL players after a Hockey Canada Foundation golf and gala event  She has not named the players, some of whom were on the 2017-18 Canadian Junior Men’s National Team, and has made clear her wishes to keep her own identity private.

The lawsuit, in which the woman was seeking $3.55 million in damages, was filed in Ontario Superior Court on April 20. Terms of the settlement were not released.

Since the lawsuit went public, Hockey Canada has had its government funding frozen and several major corporations — Tim Hortons, Bank of Nova Scotia, Esso among them — pulled their sponsorship from the upcoming World Junior Championship in Edmonton.

Bettman said he is working with the NHL Players’ Association in setting out the parameters of the investigation and is “expecting full cooperation” from all players and their clubs.

“We'd like them to ensure that their players are available to us and they tell us the truth,” Bettman said.

“This is horrible. This is horrific. This is unacceptable. But with everybody involved being anonymous, this is a daunting challenge to try and understand exactly what happened. But we're going to try our best.”

The investigation will be led by the league’s new senior executive vice president of security, Jared M. Maples, who replaced the retired Dennis Cunningham in May.

“[Maples] has a very interesting and diverse background in the security field. His last position was Director of Homeland Security for the state of New Jersey. The rest of his résumé you don't put on paper," Bettman said.

Maples served two years with the U.S. Department of Defense (2004-2006) and a decade with the Central Intelligence Agency (2006-16).

The NHL intends to make the findings of its investigation public — if possible.

“It depends on what we need to do in terms of agreements to get full access to information. We may be put under some limitations that if we want certain information, we can’t make it public,” Bettman said.

“I hope that's not the case. I hope we're in a position to learn everything that [happened] and make it public. That's our goal.”

Uncertainty in Russia

Bettman chose his words carefully when discussing the sensitivity around Russian NHLers being able to return to North America for training camp in the fall.

“We probably don't have the full story as to what's going on in terms of what each player's relationship is in Russia with respect to the government, and we're going to have to respect the process as to what goes on,” Bettman said.

“I don't want to say anything that could be misconstrued or cause an inflammation of a sensitive situation. The Russian players who still reside in Russia need to make sure that they're making the best possible decisions for themselves and their families.”

While the NHL informed the Colorado Avalanche that the Stanley Cup will not be travelling to Russia this summer, Bettman stood by his decision to permit Russian prospects to be selected in the 2022 Draft.

“I saw there was a report that said we were advising clubs not to draft Russians. That's not true,” Bettman said.

Because the NHL and NHLPA’s planned 2024 World Cup of Hockey is still in its “embryonic stage,” Bettman said, there has been no decision yet whether or not Russia will be allowed to dress a team in that tournament.

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