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Western says women’s hockey coach returning to team after investigation

Western University Yourk Western University - The Canadian Press

Western University says women’s hockey team head coach Candice Moxley will continue in her role following a third-party investigation into allegations of misconduct.

School spokeswoman Marcia Steyaert wrote in an email to TSN Wednesday that London, Ont., lawyer Elizabeth Hewitt conducted interviews with 45 individuals and reviewed evidence before determining that the allegations Moxley had breached the school’s code of conduct were unsubstantiated.

“The head coach will continue in her role,” Steyaert wrote in her email.

Moxley has coached at Western since 2018 and has also coached in the NCAA at Buffalo State College for four seasons and in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Moxley also worked as a video coach with Hockey Canada’s women’s development and senior teams from 2013-15.

Steyaert did not respond to questions about whether Western would make Hewitt’s investigation findings public.

Two women’s hockey team players told TSN that vice-provost John Doerksen advised players Wednesday afternoon that Moxley would be returning and that players would be offered mental health support in the coming days. After several players told Doerksen that they would discuss a boycott with teammates, Doerksen said he would meet with players again on Thursday.

“We appreciate investigations such as these can create stress for all those involved. We are thankful to the individuals who took time to participate in this process,” Doerksen said in a statement. “We will be working closely with our women’s hockey student-athletes and coaching staff during this transition period.

“There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our students and our student-athletes.”

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

Western opened an investigation into the alleged misconduct in July. Allegations made by players against Moxley include claims that she pressured players to play through injuries and didn’t act when players told her about Watson’s alleged misconduct.

Allegations reported to Western staff included claims that Moxley repeatedly told players she “didn’t care” about their mental health, told her players they were all replaceable, and criticized players’ social media posts, telling players they wore clothing that was too revealing, the sources said.

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

One source told TSN that Moxley was advised repeatedly over the past several seasons that Watson had made inappropriate statements about players’ bodies and had inappropriately touched some players.

The source said when one player told Moxley that Watson had touched them inappropriately when they were working out in the gym, the coach answered that the player should wear longer shorts to avoid the problem.

Hewitt also investigated the conduct of employees in Western’s sports and recreation department after allegations that complaints made about Moxley in 2022 were ignored.

“With regards to the handling of concerns by the sports and recreation department, Hewitt found there were no formal complaints filed with the university prior to 2023 and that informal concerns raised to the department in February 2022 regarding the women’s hockey program were addressed appropriately at the time,” Steyaert wrote in her email to TSN.

She also wrote that starting this fall, the school would begin conducting an anonymous survey of all student-athletes at the start of their seasons, allowing them to share their hopes and priorities for the coming year, information about their mental and physical health, and any concerns about their team’s leadership.

Such surveys have historically been conducted at the end of each season. Both surveys will be repeated annually moving forward, Steyaert wrote.

Western has been under added pressure in recent days to address the mental and physical health of its student athletes. Last week, more than 50 faculty and alumni wrote a letter to Western president Alan Shepard asking for a transparent and independent review of Western’s athletics department.