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Rick Westhead

TSN Senior Correspondent

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Content Warning: The following article contains references to sexual assault.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport has opened an investigation into Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin after the wife of a former Pittsburgh Penguins coach alleged Guerin covered up her sexual assault when he worked for the franchise, a person familiar with the matter told TSN.

Erin Skalde, whose husband, Jarrod, is a former assistant coach with the Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, filed the complaint with the centre on Oct. 5, and has been told that staff at SafeSport have opened a file about her complaint and intend to investigate, the person said.

Jarrod Skalde alleged in a lawsuit filed Nov. 3, 2020, in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania that then Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Clark Donatelli assaulted his wife, Erin, when the three of them were in a car together during a team road trip in Providence, R.I.

Jarrod said that seven months later, when the incident was brought to the attention of Guerin, who was the Penguins’ assistant general manager at the time, Guerin told him to keep quiet about the alleged assault.

The U.S. Olympic Committee created SafeSport in 2012 and in March 2017, the centre became an independent organization. Based in Denver, the centre is responsible for receiving, investigating and deciding sanctions for reports of misconduct within the U.S. Olympic movement.

Guerin, the general manager of the Wild since August 2019, was appointed assistant general manager of the 2022 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team in March. If investigators find he violated the centre’s code of conduct, Guerin could face a temporary or permanent suspension from working with the U.S. Olympic program.

According to SafeSport’s code, “the privilege of participation in the Olympic and Paralympic movement may be limited, conditioned, suspended, terminated or denied if a participant’s conduct is or was inconsistent with this Code or the best interest of sport and those who participate in it.”

A spokesperson for the Wild declined to comment. Spokespeople for USA Hockey and SafeSport did not respond to requests for comment.

In August, a lawyer representing a former Chicago Blackhawks player asked SafeSport to investigate Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman for allegedly covering up sexual assault. Bowman is the general manager of the 2022 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team. The status of that request is unclear.

It’s also uncertain how long an investigation into Guerin might take. SafeSport has about 50 people working on investigations and expects to receive more than 3,000 complaints this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 11, up from 300 complaints in 2017 and 1,848 the following year.

In his lawsuit against the Penguins, Jarrod alleged the NHL team violated Pennsylvania’s whistleblower laws and fired him on May 5, 2020, because he complained to the team about the alleged assault of his wife. Jarrod and the Penguins are now in settlement talks, the person told TSN.

Jarrod alleged in his lawsuit against the Penguins and the Lemieux Group that after he and his wife had dinner with Donatelli following a game on Nov. 11, 2018, they prepared to return to their hotel. Jarrod alleged that Donatelli sexually assaulted Erin when they were briefly alone, first putting his arm around her, calling her “sexy” and pulling her close to him.

“Mrs. Skalde tried to fight off his sexual advances and told him to stop, but to no avail, as Mr. Donatelli escalated his attack, including reaching his hands into Mrs. Skalde’s shirt and repeatedly touching her breasts,” the lawsuit alleged.

Jarrod alleged he returned to his wife and Donatelli a few minutes later and they took a car-ride service back to the hotel. Donatelli insisted that he sit in the back seat with Erin for the ride, and that Jarrod sit in the front.

“Still in shock and uncertain what to do in response to her husband’s boss sexually assaulting her, Mrs. Skalde fearfully entered the back seat of the car, trying to put as much distance between herself and Mr. Donatelli as she could, to avoid him again sexually touching her,” the lawsuit says.

“Mr. Donatelli resumed his sexual assault and battery of Mrs. Skalde once he had her in the darkness of the backseat. He not only groped her breasts again, but also forced his hands down her pants and touched her vagina, despite her efforts to push him away… Only later did Mr. Skalde find out what happened to his wife that night, shaking him to the core to learn that he had sat unknowingly in the front seat as his boss has sexually assaulted his wife.”

Jarrod confronted Donatelli about the alleged sexual assault on May 15, 2019, the lawsuit contended.

“Donatelli claimed he was too drunk to recall the events of the night in question, but six days later, he met with Jarrod Skalde and apologized,” the claim said. After Erin Skalde confronted Donatelli, the lawsuit says “Donatelli pledged to Mr. and Mrs. Skalde that he would change his ways, seek help, and come forward to the Penguins’ assistant general manager Billy Guerin about what he had done.”

When Donatelli failed to follow through with telling Guerin about his behaviour, Jarrod alleged he reported the sexual assault to Guerin at the NHL Draft in Vancouver on June 21, 2019.

Four days later, Jarrod met with a Penguins’ lawyer to discuss the assault. The Penguins never contacted Erin to interview her about what happened, apologize for the assault, or provide any expression of support or remorse, Jarrod alleged.

On June 28, 2019, the Penguins announced Donatelli had resigned for personal reasons.

“Guerin later advised Mr. Skalde that the Penguins were terminating Mr. Donatelli’s employment, but instructed [Jarrod] that knowledge of the incident and termination had to be suppressed, cautioning that it ‘has to stay quiet and can’t be let out,’” the lawsuit said.

Jarrod also alleged in his claim that he learned of “countless other episodes of inappropriate conduct by Mr. Donatelli, sexual and otherwise, which apparently the Penguins were aware of but did little or nothing to stop. Donatelli’s misconduct… was well-known by the Penguins management but tolerated because he was a successful coach.”

As the 2019-20 AHL season began, the Penguins stripped Jarrod of his duties coaching the power-play units, he said, and eight months later, on May 5, 2020, he says the Penguins fired him, telling him his job was being eliminated because of COVID-19-related cutbacks.