Content Warning: The following article contains references to sexual assault.
The alleged sexual assault of two former Chicago Blackhawks players was “an open secret” among staff both within and outside the team’s hockey department, a former team marketing official said in an interview with TSN.
The official said he was told by Blackhawks assistant trainer Jeff Thomas during the summer of 2010 that then-team video coach Brad Aldrich had allegedly sexually assaulted two players. The official asked for anonymity because he still works in the pro hockey industry and fears repercussions from the National Hockey League.
“Brad would routinely befriend young interns and invite them to his apartment in Chicago to watch March Madness basketball and other sports,” the marketing official said. “I was told to steer clear of him because he had tried something at his apartment on a few players. This was not something that only a few people knew about. The entire training staff, a lot of people knew...This was an open secret.”
The allegations against the Blackhawks went public in May after a former player filed a lawsuit in Chicago against the franchise. That unnamed player, identified as “John Doe (1)” in court documents, alleges that he reported the abuse to the team and that it was covered up. The player also alleges that Aldrich threatened him via text messages and other communications against making a complaint.
A second lawsuit filed in May by a former Michigan high school hockey player, identified in court documents as “John Doe (2)” alleges the Blackhawks covered up the abuse of two players and gave Aldrich a letter of reference when he left the team in the summer of 2010. That letter gave him the opportunity to go on and find other victims, the lawsuit alleges.
Aldrich was convicted of abusing a then-17-year-old hockey player in Houghton, Mich., in 2013. A year earlier, Aldrich resigned from his position as director of hockey operations at Miami University on Nov. 27, 2012, “under suspicion of unwanted touching of a male adult,” the university’s attorney told police, according to police records obtained by TSN.
Miami University has hired the law firm Barnes & Thornburg LLP to conduct an independent investigation into Aldrich’s tenure there, Chicago radio station WBEZ reported on Tuesday.
Houghton police records indicate an officer contacted the Blackhawks in 2013 to inquire about his time with the NHL team, but the team's director of human resources, Marie Sutera, would only confirm Aldrich had been an employee. Sutera requested a search warrant or subpoena to give out any information regarding Aldrich's departure from the team, police records say.
TSN reported last week that two former Blackhawks reported to then-skills coach Paul Vincent in May 2010 during the Western Conference finals that they had been abused by Aldrich.
Vincent says he asked the team’s management to report the allegations to Chicago police but that his plea was rejected. Vincent said he is willing to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the Blackhawks.
“I feel a weight has been lifted off of me,” Vincent said in an interview on Monday with 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."
Vincent alleges that after the players approached him on May 16, 2010, in San Jose, he asked Blackhawks sports psychologist James Gary to follow up with the players and management.
The following day, Vincent says he was called into a meeting with team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, vice-president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, and Gary. Vincent said that he asked the team to report the alleged abuse to Chicago police. That request was refused, Vincent said.
Following the meeting, Vincent said he told assistant coaches John Torchetti and Mike Haviland about his request to go to police and about the team's response. Neither Torchetti nor Haviland could be reached for comment. Neither coach is still with the franchise.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, who was Blackhawks director of player personnel during the 2009-10 season, was not aware at the time that players had made complaints against Aldrich and was not involved in a meeting to discuss them, Canadiens vice-president of public affairs and communications Paul Wilson wrote in an email to TSN.
It's not known whether then-Blackhawks assistant general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff or then-coach Joel Quenneville knew about the meeting.
Cheveldayoff is now the Winnipeg Jets general manager. A Jets spokesman declined to comment and referred questions to the Blackhawks. Quenneville is now the head coach of the Florida Panthers. A Panthers spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
The NHL also has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
News of the purported May 2010 meeting has ricocheted through the hockey world and attracted the attention of groups who advocate on behalf of sexual abuse survivors.
Former NHL player and sexual abuse survivor Sheldon Kennedy said the NHL’s refusal to comment publicly on the case and commit to an independent investigation of the Blackhawks management was “cowardly.”
“It’s cowardly to not address this publicly and hide in your office,” Kennedy in an interview. “This is about being a leader. The NHL should stand up and address this. Do everything they can to find out the truth and right the wrongs. …There must be accountability for people who know and do nothing. Where is the accountability from the Blackhawks for what happened to that high school boy in Michigan?”
During the 1990s, Kennedy, then an NHL player with the Boston Bruins, shared publicly that he had been abused by his former junior coach, Graham James, who was among the most successful junior coaches in Western Canada. Kennedy said at the time that other coaches and officials must have understood what James was doing and did nothing to stop him.
Kennedy’s courage led to other public disclosures of sexual abuse cases in junior hockey and prompted a public reckoning about the sport.
Kennedy said he empathizes with both players who came forward to Vincent.
“I can imagine how difficult it was for them,” he said. “The fear and stress and anxiety that they were sitting with for who knows how long. The worry. What if we come forward and nothing happens? Well, they do come forward. They have the courage and strength to tell their stories and then their worst nightmare happens. The door gets slammed in their face. Their abuse is dismissed.”
Peter Donnelly, a professor of sport policy and politics at the University of Toronto, said the NHL should contact the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, an independent, government-funded agency that investigates abuse claims. If the NHL hired a firm recommended by the Center to conduct a probe, that would eliminate even the appearance of a conflict of interest, Donnelly said.
“The NHL needs to commission an independent arms-length investigation and commit to making the results of that investigation public,” Donnelly said in an interview.
Before working for the Blackhawks, Aldrich was a video coach for the University of Notre Dame. After he left the NHL, he worked with Miami University.
Based on the NHL allegations and his sex abuse conviction, both of those universities should conduct investigations, Donnelly said.
“It’s not that hard for schools to contact the players who Aldrich had contact with,” Donnelly said. “The alumni office and athletic departments all keep great records. They should be explaining what’s happened with [Aldrich] and asking if there’s any players who were assaulted by him who needs counselling now and to tell their story. That’s the most ethical thing that they could do.”
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown wouldn’t say whether the school has a policy of reaching out to former students after past coaches or teachers are convicted of a sex crime.
“When made aware of such incidents, we review files and speak to anyone who might have information, then investigate if warranted,” Brown wrote in an email.
Miami University officials did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.
After Aldrich left the Blackhawks, he joined the coaching staff of a high school team in Houghton, Mich.
“I remember asking 'Why is he here after being with the Blackhawks?'” Houghton hockey coach Corey Markham said in an interview. “Brad’s uncle was an assistant coach on our team and said Brad was just tired of the NHL travel. I was like, ‘Cripes, we have a chance to have a Stanley Cup-winning coach who’s great doing video? Terrific.’ He was family, so we didn’t do any background checks or anything.”
(Markham concedes a background check would not have necessarily raised any red flags with Aldrich because he didn’t have a criminal conviction for his alleged assaults in Chicago.)
Aldrich spent a season with Houghton High School's team before leaving for a job with Miami University, where he was named director of hockey operations in July 2012.
Aldrich left that position before Christmas 2012, former Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said in an interview.
“I don’t know why he left, Blasi said. "You'd have to talk to the school's legal department."
Aldrich rejoined the Houghton high school team in January 2013, Markham said.
“No one felt uncomfortable around him,” he said. “I look back and everyone liked him a lot.”
One morning in mid-2013, Markham was summoned to Houghton’s police station and told about Aldrich’s assault of a 17-year-old high school hockey player. Aldrich was later convicted in connection with the incident.
“I felt sick,” Markham said. “My biggest advice to other coaches is to ask questions. The biggest thing for me was why he left the Blackhawks. Find out the reason why someone leaves a job like that before you take them on. Don’t be naïve and accept what you hear.”