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Rick Westhead

TSN Senior Correspondent

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In the summer of 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks’ then-video coach Brad Aldrich returned to his home in Houghton, Mich., with the Stanley Cup, his name newly engraved on hockey’s most famous trophy alongside those of other players, coaches and team staff.

Aldrich’s day with the Cup was tantamount to a letter of reference that helped him get other jobs in hockey, says a lawyer for a former high school hockey player who is suing the club.

The Blackhawks on Sept. 13 filed motions asking a judge in Cook County, Ill., to dismiss a pair of negligence lawsuits filed against the team. The lawsuits relate to Aldrich, a former video coach who allegedly sexually assaulted a Blackhawks player in 2010 and who was convicted in 2013 of sexually abusing a then-16-year-old high school hockey player in Houghton.

The NHL team alleged in its Sept. 13 motion that there was no evidence to support an allegation that it provided Aldrich with a recommendation letter for his coaching position in Houghton. The Blackhawks have told Susan Loggans, a lawyer for the former high school player, that they will file a motion for sanctions against her unless she withdraws the claim.

Aldrich left the Blackhawks sometime during the summer of 2010. He worked in the hockey department at Miami University in 2012, where he assaulted two men, according to a recent independent investigation commissioned by the school. According to a report on the investigation’s findings, Aldrich did not provide any reference as part of his resume when he was hired at Miami. “[Miami hockey] coach Enrico Blasi recalled that both he and his staff had talked to the coaching staff at Notre Dame and received favourable information,” the report said.

After leaving Miami, Aldrich joined a high school hockey team in Houghton as a volunteer assistant coach. In Houghton, he sexually abused a teenaged hockey player and was sentenced to nine months in jail and 60 months of probation.

In court documents filed Thursday, Loggans alleges that the Blackhawks offered a “non-verbal” recommendation of Aldrich by allowing him to have a day with the Stanley Cup even after two players had told management they had been sexually assaulted by Aldrich and requested the NHL team report him to Chicago police.

“Most definitely there was communication between the Blackhawks and Houghton,” Loggans wrote in a 41-page court filing. “At the very least, there was non-verbal communication. The Blackhawks gave Mr. Aldrich the actual Stanley Cup to take to Houghton to show it off. The Cup was inscribed with Mr. Aldrich’s name. Standing alone, this communication vouches for Mr. Aldrich’s suitability as a coach… In other words, the Blackhawks ‘sent’ Mr. Aldrich to Houghton with the most positive reference available – the Stanley Cup, engraved with his name. They did this at a time when they knew of Aldrich’s sexual exploitation of its players.”

In the first version of the former high school hockey player’s lawsuit against the Blackhawks filed May 24, the team was accused of providing positive references to Aldrich’s future employers. An amended version filed July 21 reframed the argument, saying the Blackhawks offered a “positive review and/or employment verification of Aldrich to Houghton.”

The Blackhawks are defending two negligence lawsuits – one by one of the two former Blackhawks players who alleged they were assaulted by Aldrich, and a second by the former Michigan high school player. Neither case has advanced to discovery, a stage in the legal process when relevant documents and communications must be turned over by the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks have also alleged they had no duty to inform Aldrich’s subsequent employers about the allegations against him.

The NHL team is also trying to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the former Blackhawks player identified anonymously as ‘John Doe 1.’ While the club claims the statute of limitations expired before the lawsuit was filed in May, Loggans also rejected that argument.

She wrote the player repressed his memory of being assaulted by Aldrich until he learned of his 2013 criminal conviction in July 2019. That’s when the two-year statute of limitations should begin, Loggans wrote.

“Illinois law is settled that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows or reasonably should know that he has been injured and that his injury was wrongfully caused,” Loggans wrote. “In this case, plaintiff reported the assault, and the team psychologist [James Gary] minimized the assault and blamed plaintiff for it. The assaulter, Mr. Aldrich, threatened to ruin plaintiff’s hockey career if he did not keep quiet about the assault. Plaintiff spent the next nine years ignoring and suppressing memories of the assault until he learned that Mr. Aldrich was convicted of molesting a 16-year-old boy. It was only at this time that plaintiff reflected on his own victimization and how it had affected his life.”

Loggans wrote that the Blackhawks did not doubt their former player’s allegations of abuse when he reported it.

“The Blackhawks’ goal [was] to win the Stanley Cup and keep its image clean,” Loggans wrote. “Despite the fact that [they] believed Doe’s claims, and were told to report Aldrich’s conduct to the police, the Blackhawks blamed Doe for the abuse and made him believe he had caused the problem. This is not a case where an employer simply failed to investigate after being told of an employee’s wrongdoing. The Blackhawks here took concerted action to intimidate and confuse Doe. He was threatened with never playing hockey in the NHL if he made his allegations public.”

The Blackhawks have hired the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block to scrutinize the abuse allegations. The firm’s investigation is expected to conclude this fall.