After playing major junior hockey with the Everett Silvertips and Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Western Hockey League, Kyle Beach was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, 11th overall, in the 2008 NHL entry draft.
Kyle was recalled during the 2010 playoffs as a Black Ace with the NHL team, practicing alongside the Blackhawks regulars. Over subsequent seasons, Beach played mostly in the American Hockey League and in European hockey leagues.
Beach is now 31 and playing pro hockey in Germany. On Wednesday, Beach joined TSN’s SportsCentre to discuss the sexual abuse allegations he has made against former Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich.
Rick Westhead: Kyle, thank you very much for joining us to talk about this. Just to start off, Kyle – yesterday was a momentous day, a day of reckoning. Can you walk us through how you were feeling when you were watching, Reid Schar – the lawyer for Jenner & Block – read out some of the findings in his investigation into the Blackhawks?
Kyle Beach: Thanks for having me, Rick, and thank you for all you’ve done throughout this process since this first became public knowledge. Without you and your reporting, I’m not sure that we would be here today, so I wanted to thank you first. Yesterday was a day of many emotions. I cried, I smiled, I laughed, I cried some more and my girlfriend and I – we didn’t know how to feel. We didn’t know how to think, we just held each other and supported each other. She’s been my rock from the very beginning of this process and I’m very fortunate to have her here and to be able to lean on her, rely on her to help on those tough days – I don’t think that I or we could have imagined what would have come out of yesterday’s press conference. And following it, just a great feeling of relief and vindication, and it was no longer my word against everybody else’s. Because a lot of things were made public, a lot of people were interviewed, and I really felt like there was a lot of lies told in the media. And it was very special and important to me to have that truth come out yesterday.
RW: Can you just – for people who aren’t following European hockey – can you tell us a little bit about where you are now and who you’re playing with?
KB: I’m playing in Germany right now in a city called Erfurt for the Black Dragons. It’s a small club in the third league in Germany. But they treat it like a family, we’re treated very, very well. The management – they’re very, very open and they do absolutely everything they can for us to make us feel safe, included, and that’s something that I really appreciate with where I am in my career right now.
RW: I hope we can go back and talk this through chronologically. Of course, we have viewers of all ages who are watching right now and so maybe we’ll avoid getting into graphic details and for those of us who are interested, the Jenner & Block report is public and it’s on their website. But in general terms, can you take us back to May of 2010 and just explain a little bit about what it was like to be called up to the Blackhawks as a Black Ace in the first place?
KB: So, 2010, I finished my junior season with the Spokane Chiefs, and I was originally called up by the Rockford Ice Hogs of the AHL. And following our conclusion there – I believe we lost in the first round of the playoffs – several of us were recalled to the Blackhawks as Black Aces. I think anytime you get that phone call, you’re going up – whether it’s to play or to be a practice player. But to be a part of that for the first time besides a training camp, it was an extremely special moment for me and for my family and the next step for me pursuing my NHL dream that I dreamed about and worked for my entire life. So unfortunately, a couple weeks after, those memories were tainted, and my life was changed forever.
RW: Coming out of those moments when the abuse took place, I can’t imagine what the subsequent days were like - before we get to how it’s affected you over the last 11 years. What was it like in the days immediately after? Confusion? What were some of the emotions you were feeling?
KB: To be honest, I was scared mostly. I was fearful. I had my career threatened. I felt alone and dark. Sorry, it’s tough to recall these moments. I felt like I was alone and there was nothing I could do and nobody I could turn to for help. And I didn’t know what to do as a 20-year-old. I would never dream, or you could never imagine being put in this situation by somebody who’s supposed to be there to help you and to make you a better hockey player and a better person and continue to build your career. Just scared and alone with no idea what to do.
RW: Who was the first person you told about this?
KB: The first person I mentioned it to was Paul Vincent in a San Jose hotel when we were travelling with the team. Paul Vincent’s an amazing man and I’ve seen everything that he’s done since this has come out public. I don’t have the words to express my appreciation for Paul. He tried to do everything he could back then and when this came to public light, he stood his ground and spoke his truth. It is men like him that make hockey great. You talk to anybody from the Boston area. I was flown out to Boston as a prospect after I was drafted to work with Paul and ever since then we’ve had a great relationship and I’ve always enjoyed working with Paul and he’s probably the most highly regarded skills coach there is in the Boston area. And not only the Boston area, but the hockey world.
RW: Kyle, when did you tell your family about this and how much did you tell them and what was their reaction?
KB: I don’t remember exactly when I told them. It was shortly after it had happened, in the summer. My mom cried for days. She felt responsible, like she should have protected me and there was nothing could do. After that first conversation with them, we never spoke about it again until very recently. I never brought it up and they respected my privacy. They asked if I was okay and let me talk about what I wanted to talk about. I did what I thought I had to do to survive, to continue chasing my dream and it was to not think about it, to not talk about it, ignore it and that’s all I could do. I was threatened and my career was on the line. And if I had that in my head, there was no way I was gonna perform at the top of my capabilities.
RW: After management was told about what had happened, Brad Aldrich remained with the team for weeks. What was that like – watching him on a daily basis interact with the team, seeing him at the parade, getting a Stanley Cup ring, later that summer having a day with the Stanley Cup?
KB: To be honest Rick, the only way I could describe it was that I felt sick, I felt sick to my stomach. I reported this and I was made aware that it made it all the way up the chain of command by ‘Doc’ (James) Gary and nothing happened. It was like his life was the same as the day before. Same every day. And then when they won, to see him paraded around lifting the Cup, at the parade, at the team pictures, at celebrations, it made me feel like nothing. It made me feel like I didn’t exist. It made me feel like, that I wasn’t important and…it made me feel like he was in the right and I was wrong. And that’s also what ‘Doc’ Gary told me, that it was my fault because I put myself in that situation. And the combination of these and him being paraded around, then letting him take the Stanley Cup to a high school with kids after they knew what had happened. There’re not words to describe it Rick, there really isn’t.
RW: ‘Doc’ Gary is of course Jim Gary, the Blackhawks’ mental skills coach and councillor at the time. Kyle, you’ve carried this for 11 years – I don’t even think it’s possible to put into words the impact it’s had on you. Can you try?
KB: To be honest Rick, I’m just beginning that process. I’ve suppressed this memory and buried this memory to chase my dreams and pursue the career that I loved and the game that I love of hockey. And the healing process is just beginning and yesterday was a huge step in that process. But until very recently, I did not talk about it, I did not discuss it, I didn’t think about it. And now that I’m beginning to heal, I begin to look back and it definitely had impacts on my life. I did stupid things, I acted out, I snapped…I did things that I never could imagine doing. I relied on alcohol, I relied on drugs and…I’m just so relieved with the news that came out yesterday, that I’ve been vindicated, and I can truly begin the healing process.
RW: Kyle, I want to talk about that healing process in a second. Court documents show that you’ve said that some of your teammates said after the fact started using homophobic slurs. For legal reasons, we won’t name names, but how often was that happening, how frequently was it happening, where was it happening and how soon after the assault was it happening?
KB: Word spread pretty quick. I do believe that everyone in that locker room knew about it. Because the comments were made in the locker room, they were made on the ice, they were made around the arena with all different people of all different backgrounds – players, staff, media in the presence.
RW: So, when (then-teammates) Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel say everybody knew in that locker room, you think they were telling the truth?
KB: I 100 per cent believe both of them and I haven’t spoken to either of them since the last time I would have ran into them at a training camp. I do not know them, I do not have a personal relationship with them, I do not have their phone numbers, I have not spoken to them. So, for them to come forward, to corroborate the story, I owe them a huge thank you as I do Paul Vincent, yourself, and many, many others. (Former Blackhawks associate coach) John Torchetti, my family, and friends for supporting me, my girlfriend Bianca for being there for me every single day. Because reliving this and having to dig back to those memories for the investigation, for the lawsuit, having to tell my story over and over has not been easy. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, but at the same time, it’s a huge step I realize now in the healing process. But for those individuals who came forward early on with absolutely nothing to gain, they’re heroes to me. They really are. Because when I was alone, I was afraid and I was scared, I didn’t think I could turn to anyone. Even when this first came out, the Blackhawks denied it. They said they did an investigation. They said my claims were meritless. To me, I took that as them saying to the world that I was a liar, that I was lying. And to have these individuals like Paul Vincent, like Nick Boynton, Torchetti and Sopel come forward, then I knew I wasn’t alone. And I could never thank them enough for doing that, because it gave me the strength to continue forward with this.
RW: Kyle, why come forward now? Putting your name out there, being on television, this is a big decision. I wonder what your thought process was leading up to this point and why you want to do this.
KB: It’s been a…it’s a big step for me, my process of recovery, as I process the events that happened and as I truly deal with the underlying issues that I have from them. For me, I wanted to come forward and put my name on this. To be honest, it’s already out there. The details were pretty accurate in the report, and it’s been figured out. More than that, I’ve been a survivor, I am a survivor. And I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one, male or female. And I buried this for 10 years, 11 years. And it’s destroyed me from the inside out. And I want everybody to know in the sports world and in the world that you’re not alone. That if these things happen to you, you need to speak up. Because there is support systems like Sheldon Kennedy, like the U.S. gymnastics team, like USA Soccer, there is support systems. There is people that are with you. And I hope that this entire process can make a systematic change to make sure this never happens again. Because it not only affected me as a young adult and now as a 31-year-old man, but it also affected kids because it was not handled in a correct way.
RW: When Brad Aldrich did leave the Blackhawks in the summer of 2010, he went on to work with the U.S. Hockey National Program actually, as well as Miami University in Ohio. And then in 2013, he wound up in Houghton, Michigan where he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old high school player. And I wonder, if that player is watching now, what your message to him is.
KB: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t do more, when I could, to make sure it didn’t happen to him. To protect him. But I also wanted to say thank you to him. Because when I decided, after a teammate asked me about it when I was playing overseas, and I decided to Google Brad Aldrich’s name and that’s when I found out about the Michigan individual, the Michigan team. And because of what happened to him, it gave me the power and the sense of urgency to take action, to make sure it didn’t happen to anybody else. So, I’m sorry, and I thank you. And I hope at some point down the road, if he’s open to it, I would love to meet him. Because unfortunately, we share something in common – it’s going to be a part of us for the rest of our lives.
RW: Kyle – yesterday, Stan Bowman left the Blackhawks organization and Al MacIsaac, the vice president of hockey operations left as well. Joel Quenneville is still the coach in Florida. What kind of accountability is needed now from others who knew about what happened and didn’t do anything about it?
KB: I think that the step the Blackhawks took yesterday is a great step in the right direction. They accepted accountability and they took actions necessary, albeit too late. And the denials until yesterday, I commend them for what they did. Part of this process - I’m not sure what it was, three or four months ago – the NHL denied an investigation. They wanted nothing to do with it, they didn’t want to touch it. USA Sport also denied doing an investigation. Now in statements that came out in the release, Stan Bowman has quoted Joel Quenneville saying – and this is not a quote, this is my words – saying that the playoffs, the Stanley Cup playoffs and trying to win a Stanley Cup was more important than sexual assault. And I can’t believe that. As a human being, I cannot believe that, and I cannot accept that. I’ve witnessed meetings, right after I reported it to James Gary, that were held in Joel Quenneville’s office. There’s absolutely no way that he can deny knowing it and there’s absolutely no way that Stan Bowman would make up a quote like that, to somebody who served his organization and his team so well.
RW: Kyle, where do you go from here? You’ve now talked publicly about this; you’ve talked about how this will affect you for the rest of your life. How do you take something so horrible and try to find something positive in that? Whether it’s serving the public or reaching out to other abuse survivors, have you thought about where you go from here?
KB: To be honest, I haven’t had the chance. This is all so fresh. But the one thing I want to make sure comes from this is change. I want to make sure in any way possible that this does not happen to somebody else. Because it will happen again, I will not be the only one. Whether it’s in hockey, soccer, any sport, any business, any company, there needs to be a system in place that it gets dealt with. And that it’s somebody making the decision to deal with it, that has no skin in the game. Because if this had been reported to someone other than John McDonough, or Joel Quenneville or Stan Bowman that didn’t have skin in the game of winning a Stanley Cup, it would have been dealt with and would have protected all of the survivors that came after me. I would love to be able to help, I would love to be able to advocate. I would love to be able to support survivors in coming out and coming forward, I’d love to be there in any way possible and I would love to be a part of a group that really comes up and designs a system to make sure that there is a safe place in the sports world and there’s a safe place that every child or adult, male or female can go if they’re in trouble or if they feel uncomfortable, where they won’t be judged and they won’t have to go through what I did.
RW: Kyle, my last question for now – the NHL says that (commissioner) Gary Bettman will meet with (Kevin) Cheveldayoff, the Winnipeg general manager and Joel Quenneville, the head coach in Florida still, to talk about this. What is your message to Gary Bettman and the NHL about what the right thing to do would be?
KB: The NHL is inclusive; the NHL includes everybody. And they let me down and they’ve let down others as well. But they continue to try and protect their name over the health and the well-being of the people who put their lives on the line every day to make the NHL what it is. I hope through and through that Gary Bettman takes this seriously and that he does his due diligence, that he talks to not only them, but Stan Bowman, John McDonough, and anybody else that has information to offer before he makes his decision. Because they already let me down, they wouldn’t investigate for me, so why would they now?
RW: I suppose it should also be pointed out that according to the report, that on multiple occasions, Don Fehr – the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association – was also made aware of concerns about Brad Aldrich’s misconduct and promised people to investigate and didn’t. So, would you hold him to the same standard?
KB: Absolutely, I would. He represents the players. I don’t know where I fall under the NHLPA – I never played games other than pre-season, but I was on an NHL roster when this happened, albeit as a Black Ace. I know I reported every single detail to an individual at the NHLPA, who I was put in contact with after. I believe two different people talked to Don Fehr. And for him to turn his back on the players when his one job is to protect the players at all costs, I don’t know how that can be your leader. I don’t know how he can be in charge. If that’s what he’s going to do when a player comes to you and tells you something, whether it be abuse, whether it be drugs, whether it be anything, you’re supposed to have the players’ backs and they definitely didn’t have mine.