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'Vast majority' of Western women's hockey team players disavow boycott threat, official says

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A senior Western University official reiterated to women’s hockey team players in an email on Wednesday that head coach Candice Moxley will return to her role following a third-party investigation into allegations of misconduct, and wrote that a number of players have distanced themselves from the threat of a boycott.

Western is scheduled to play the University of Windsor this Saturday and Queen’s University on Sunday. A school spokeswoman did not respond to an email asking if Moxley will be coaching this weekend.

“This has been a terribly difficult time for women's hockey at Western and for me as a coach,” Moxley wrote in an email to TSN on Thursday. “I am excited to return from providing caregiving for a family member to lead this team and support each and every player.

“My focus throughout the rest of the season will be on creating a positive and productive experience for everyone. I have certainly reflected during this experience and will continue to grow and better myself as a leader...”

During a meeting with vice provost John Doerksen on Tuesday, players were told they would be emailed a survey later the same day in which they were asked to indicate if they planned to continue playing this season. A source said players were initially asked to respond to the survey within 24 hours, although they were later provided with more time to consider their decision.

On Wednesday night, Doerksen sent an email to players, writing that “providing you with a positive and supportive experience continues to be our focus.”

While two sources told TSN that players met with Doerksen twice last week and told him that they would boycott practices and games if Moxley returned, Doerksen wrote in his email to players on Wednesday that school officials believe that letter didn’t represent the views of the entire team.

“We appreciate you meeting with us yesterday,” Doerksen wrote in his Wednesday email, which was obtained by TSN. “As we discussed, it came to our attention that the letter sent to President [Alan] Shepard was not shared with or endorsed by the entire team. The letter was also not signed, so we wanted to give each of you time to reflect, speak with those closest to you, and have the opportunity to confidentially signal your intentions for the remainder of the season, under Candice Moxley’s leadership.

“We've now heard from you, and we can confirm the vast majority of the players have indicated their intentions to continue playing for the 2023/24 season. For those of you who have not yet responded, the survey remains open, out of respect that some of you may need more time.”

In a letter purportedly from the entire team that was sent to Shepard on Nov. 2 and forwarded to the media the following day, players said they were upset that Moxley was returning to her coaching role.

“We, the Players of Western’s Women’s Hockey team, will be boycotting any practices and games that Coach Moxley is involved in,” the three-page letter said. “The concerns we brought to the university should not be taken lightly. Why is Coach Moxley’s treatment of us (past and present) being swept under the rug?”

After players complained this summer about the conduct of Moxley and Western strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watson, the school hired London, Ont., lawyer Elizabeth Hewitt to investigate.

While Moxley was cleared by Hewitt, allegations against Watson, who worked with the school’s 38 varsity teams, were substantiated by the investigation and he is no longer employed by the university.

Complaints to the school included allegations that Moxley did not act following multiple complaints from players that they were being sexually harassed by Watson.

Moxley, who said she could not initially respond to questions about the investigation because of school policy, did not respond to a question about whether she told players who complained of Watson’s behaviour to wear less revealing clothing.

Western has refused to make Hewitt’s investigation findings public because they detailed employment matters.

"As coach Moxley transitions back to the bench, she is fully committed to putting her all into leading and supporting the team," Doerksen wrote in his email to players on Wednesday.

"Coach [Rich] Brown has provided outstanding interim leadership these past few weeks, and he will be working closely with coach Moxley and all of you for the rest of the season," Doerksen wrote, adding that Louisa Koza, Western's director of health, safety, and employee well-being, will become an athlete liaison dedicated to the women’s hockey team.