For 45 minutes last Friday morning, former Chicago Blackhawks player Nick Boynton joined a Zoom call with lawyers hired by the franchise to share his memories of abuse allegations that first surfaced during the team’s 2010 playoff run.
Boynton, who was joined on the video call by his lawyer, told four attorneys with the law firm Jenner & Block that he remembered how former Blackhawks forward Jake Dowell had first told him during the 2010 NHL playoffs that two of their teammates had been sexually assaulted by Brad Aldrich, who was then Chicago’s video coach.
Boynton told investigators that, at the request of those teammates, he approached skills coach Paul Vincent, hoping that the retired police officer would convince the club’s management to fire Aldrich and report the allegations to police.
Boynton, who played seven games with the Blackhawks in the 2009-10 championship season and 41 games with the team the following year, said in his Zoom interview that many of Chicago’s top stars knew about the abuse, based on their conversations in the locker room.
“They asked me who knew and I gave them names, basically everybody on the team,” Boynton told TSN in an interview on Wednesday. “I said everybody f---ing knew about it. I said you can talk to the coaches. …I said talk to Torch [former assistant coach John Torchetti]. I called out Brian Campbell, and said talk to Patrick Sharp and talk to Kaner [Patrick Kane]. …The training staff knew. I’m sick of this wall of silence.”
Dowell disputes Boynton’s recollection.
“It’s foggy to me,” Dowell said in an interview. “I remember after Brad was let go after 2010 we started to hear some rumblings, but I don’t know how much truth there was to it.”
Dowell was one of the Blackhawks’ Black Aces (minor-league players who practised with the NHL team during the playoffs and were on standby in case of injuries) and said he enjoyed a good relationship with Aldrich.
“For younger players trying to make it in the NHL, [Aldrich] was a good resource,” Dowell said. “He’d tell us what the game plan was and who was doing well. He’d watch the video, get intel for us about where we stand with the coaches. That’s how I remember him. For me, it was talking about where I stand and if I’ll ever get a sniff in the NHL. He was a coach and I was a player.”
Former Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, who worked with Aldrich for two seasons before Aldrich was fired by Chicago in 2010, has said he didn’t know about allegations against his former assistant until media reports this year. Quenneville now coaches the Florida Panthers.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews has said he first learned of the allegations before training camp in the fall of 2010 and has said he was “annoyed” that an unidentified former Blackhawks player told The Athletic website that everyone on the team knew about the alleged incidents.
Boynton said investigators “sounded disgusted” by what he told them and said he’s hopeful that the Chicago law firm won’t whitewash the investigation.
“It sounds like they are going to do the best job they can do,” Boynton said. “I got a good feeling from them and I like to hope they do what they’re supposed to.”
It’s been a month since the Blackhawks hired Jenner & Block to independently investigate claims of abuse made in a pair of lawsuits.
One lawsuit, filed by a former Blackhawks player referred to as John Doe 1, alleges the team’s management covered up the sexual abuse of two players at the hands of Aldrich. A second lawsuit alleges that, after he was quietly fired in the summer of 2010, Aldrich was still given a positive job reference that allowed him to find other victims, including a teenaged hockey player in Michigan whom Aldrich was convicted of sexually assaulting in 2013.
None of the allegations against the Blackhawks have been proven in court.
Player agent Ritch Winter, who represents former Blackhawks Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, said he hasn’t been contacted by Jenner & Block about setting up interviews with the former players. Winter said if contacted he will recommend to the players that they speak with investigators.
It’s unclear what kind of cooperation other players and Blackhawks staff will provide.
Vincent told TSN in an interview that the two Blackhawks players told him of their abuse on or about May 16, 2010, before Game 1 of the Western Conference Final in San Jose. Vincent said he asked team sports psychologist James Gary to follow up.
Vincent said a day later he was called into a meeting at the team hotel in San Jose with team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, vice-president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, and Gary. Vincent said he asked the team executives to go to the sex crimes unit of the Chicago police department but they refused.
Although investigators have contacted him to request an interview, Vincent said he won’t speak with Jenner & Block lawyers unless they promise in writing to make their investigation findings public.
Brent Sopel, a one-time Blackhawks defenceman who told TSN in an interview that most of the team’s players and coaches were aware of the abuse allegations, also is refusing to cooperate with Jenner & Block unless the law firm promises to make its investigation report public.
Jenner & Block has repeatedly referred questions about the investigation to the Blackhawks, who have refused to discuss the scope of the probe or what the team will do with the report upon its completion.
There is no industry standard for disclosing independent investigation results.
In 2014, the National Football League disclosed the complete 144-page report on the bullying of a former Miami Dolphins player who quit the team mid-season and checked himself into a hospital for psychiatric care.
A 2018 report detailing the toxic culture within the Dallas Mavericks organization was similarly disclosed in full. That report prompted team owner Mark Cuban to donate $10 million to agencies that fight domestic abuse.
Earlier this year, however, Major League Baseball banned former Toronto Blue Jays player Roberto Alomar for alleged inappropriate conduct but refused to disclose an investigation report.
On July 1, the NFL said it would fine owner Dan Snyder’s Washington team $10 million after an independent investigation probed allegations of impropriety and sexual misconduct within the organization.
In that case, in which team employees and journalists covering the club alleged pervasive sexual harassment, the NFL didn’t commission a written report. It instead asked that the investigator, Washington lawyer Beth Wilkinson, report her findings “orally” instead of in writing.
“No written report. No facts. No findings. No accountability. And no real consequences,” the Washington Post’s editorial board wrote in a July 3 article. “It turns out that the NFL didn’t request a written report from Ms. Wilkinson. It received her findings orally, supposedly because of the ‘sensitivity’ of the allegations but making it all the easier to cover up what was found. Did Ms. Wilkinson, an attorney with a stellar reputation, really think this was a good idea?”
“There’s no template for this,” said Evan Krutoy, a New York lawyer who was hired by the Mavericks in 2018 to investigate that team’s misconduct allegations. “Some people might not want a written report because they’re worried about criminal exposure and civil liability.”
It’s also hard to know at this point how much evidence the Jenner & Block investigators have or will be able to obtain.
Jenner & Block investigators have likely hired a forensics expert to "mirror," or copy data off of work computers and collect old emails from servers, Krutoy said. Eleven-year-old text messages may be more difficult to retrieve, he said.
It can take many months to schedule and conduct interviews. In the Mavericks' case, Krutoy’s team spoke with 215 witnesses, reviewed 1.6 million documents, and scrutinized team human resources files and documents going back 20 years during its seven-month investigation.
“Every employee, even one who is there for just a few months, may have relevant information, may have heard something that bothered them,” Krutoy said. “We aren’t talking about a court of law. It may be hearsay, but you still might want to follow up and take that kind of information to others to ask them about it.”