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The anthems are played prior to the 3-on-3 Showcase during 2024 NHL All-Star Thursday at Scotiabank Arena, in Toronto, on Feb. 1.Cole Burston/Getty Images

Avoidance seemed to be the order of the day Thursday as all-star weekend begins in Toronto with 44 of the National Hockey League’s best players rolled out in front of media and fans.

But while the league was hoping for a celebration of the sport, the spotlight instead focused on five players who face sexual-assault charges.

All are on leave from their clubs and have turned themselves in to police in London, Ont.

“No questions on Carter,” a member of the Philadelphia Flyers communications staff interjected in an attempt to stop possible queries about one of the five, Flyers goaltender Carter Hart. As it was, teammate Travis Konecny had already responded. “Yeah, at this time I’m not going to answer any questions on that.”

In addition to Mr. Hart, the other players facing charges are Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, Calgary Flames forward Dillon Dubé and Alex Formenton, a former NHLer who plays in Switzerland. He previously was a member of the Ottawa Senators and the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, as well.

Colorado all-star Cale Makar, a high-profile defenceman and member of the 2018 world junior team, said he was told not to comment.

At present, he is ineligible to play in Hockey Canada-related events because no members of the 2018 junior team are allowed to do so. “Regardless of the situation going on right now,” he said, “I’m going to divert back to what I’ve said. I don’t know too much of any of the details.”

An Edmonton Oilers public-relations manager cautioned against putting the question to Connor McDavid and said he he would advise him not to answer.

“This is not the place for that,” he said.

Mr. McDavid was not a member of that team but is one of the NHL’s biggest stars.

St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas, who also played on Canada’s 2018 world junior team and for the London Knights, declined multiple times to comment on the issue.

“I’ve made comments and issued a statement online,” Mr. Thomas said as he sat beside Mr. Konecny on a dais in a conference room at Scotiabank Arena. “I have said I am co-operating with the investigation and that’s all I am going to say.”

Asked a related question, he said the same thing.

And then, asked if the league had told him not to speak on the matter, he said the same thing again.

Jack Hughes, a New Jersey Devils forward who is captain of one of the all-star teams, along with his brother Quinn, said, “Yeah, I don’t really have comments on that.”

The NHL is conducting its own investigation. Commissioner Gary Bettman may address the issue during a news conference on Friday. Both the league and Hockey Canada have declined to comment.

The all-star game has returned to Toronto for the first time in 24 years.

Mitch Marner, who is one of four Toronto Maple Leafs participating in Friday’s skills competition and Saturday’s game, addressed the issue of the investigation and, more broadly, hockey culture in general.

“It is a very serious topic and it’s hard to comment on the investigation right now,” Mr. Marner said. “As hockey players, we want to be loved and appreciated.”

Thousands of fans flooded the Toronto Convention Centre on the first day of a fan fest related to the all-star game.

Some were disheartened about reports that Hockey Canada quietly reached a settlement with the alleged victim using registration fees to cover the cost.

“Honestly, I believe they should create an entirely new entity to replace Hockey Canada,” Hamza Khalid, a law student, said on his way into the fan fest. “Some of us don’t want to associate with Hockey Canada’s past.

“It casts a bad shadow on the hockey community. We don’t expect our hockey heroes to behave in such a manner.”

Cheryl McKinnon of Toronto was waiting beside a red carpet to watch the all-stars pass through the convention centre on Thursday.

“It makes me sad,” she said, speaking about the sexual-assault charges. “These are young guys but if they are guilty, they deserve the highest penalty.”

Despite the dark cloud hanging over the sport, with London police set to hold a press conference to provide more information on Monday, Mr. Konecny, a London native, refused to let that overshadow his second all-star appearance.

“I have friends and family here,” he said. “I’m just focusing on the experience and I’m just gonna enjoy a couple of days close to home and soak it in.”

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