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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman fined the Chicago Blackhawks US$2-million for its failed response but has received push-back from critics who believe the amount was too small.Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press

Speaking publicly about the Chicago Blackhawks sex-abuse scandal for the first time, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday defended accusations that he has not done enough and offered an apology to Kyle Beach, the player who was assaulted 10 years ago by a video coach for the team.

“We could not be more sorry for the trauma that was endured,” Bettman said during a 50-minute call with journalists.

Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league was warned by the Blackhawks about a potential lawsuit against the team in December of 2020, but only learned specific allegations when Beach’s civil complaint was filed in May.

An independent report released on Oct. 26 by a Chicago law firm found that senior officials with the club suppressed information and failed to review the accusations so it would not distract from the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run.

“I wish we knew about this in 2011, but we didn’t,” Bettman said. “Had we known about it, everything would have been handled differently. We wouldn’t tolerate this.”

Bettman fined the club US$2-million for its failed response but has received push-back from critics who believe the amount was too small. He argued it was significant enough to get the attention of club executives around the league.

“It made clear that the way the Blackhawks handled this matter was not appropriate,” Bettman said. “You need to take appropriate action when something inappropriate occurs.

“This should be a wake-up call to all clubs. You need to understand what your organization is doing because you are going to be held accountable.”

The report confirmed that a handful of Chicago team officials met on May 23, 2010, to discuss allegations that Beach, a first-round draft pick two years earlier, had made against Brad Aldrich.

“It is clear senior management made the decision to not deal with it,” Bettman said.

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The allegations against Aldrich were not directed to the club’s head of human resources until weeks later, after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.

When Aldrich was called in, he was given the choice to resign or face an investigation into his actions. He chose the former, was given a severance package and continued to be paid for weeks, was allowed to celebrate with the Stanley Cup, received a Stanley Cup ring, had his name etched on the trophy, was invited to banner-raising festivities in the fall and was given a positive performance evaluation by head coach Joel Quenneville, with whom he worked closely.

The organization faces a second lawsuit from a former high-school student whom Aldrich later was convicted of assaulting in Michigan.

“What the club was telling us before the report was not this,” Bettman said. “I was very surprised when I read the report and how it focused on John McDonough.”

McDonough, the Blackhawks’ former president and CEO, left the club in April, 2020, while Al MacIsaac, the senior vice-president of hockey operations, left shortly before the results of the investigation were released.

General manager Stan Bowman tendered his resignation the same morning that Jenner & Block held a news conference to go over what it had discovered. Over a period of four months, the firm’s representatives interviewed 139 witnesses.

Quenneville, who won the Stanley Cup as Chicago’s head coach in 2010 and twice after, also attended the meeting on May 23, 2010. He expressed a concern that his players had to remain focused. McDonough feared the incident would cause negative publicity.

Bettman called Quenneville to his office on Thursday but allowed him to remain behind the bench for the Florida Panthers, where he has coached since 2019, the preceding night. In light of the situation, that angered many people.

Bettman said that he did not want Quenneville, the league’s most successful active coach, to believe he was being prejudged. He said Quenneville had coached in 867 games since then.

“I knew I had to have Joel come in and I had to have a candid conversation with him,” the commissioner said. “I was focused on the long term, not one game.”

Quenneville resigned as the Panthers head coach hours after the meeting with Bettman.

Kevin Cheveldayoff, Chicago’s assistant general manager at the time, travelled to meet Bettman in New York on Friday morning. Cheveldayoff is the current general manager of the Winnipeg Jets.

He confirmed he attended the May 23 meeting but was not disciplined by Bettman, which caused some rancour.

The commissioner said Cheveldayoff’s primary responsibilities at the time surrounded the team’s salary cap and scouting. Cheveldayoff told Bettman that as far as he knew, superiors were going to handle Beach’s complaint.

“He had limited authority,” Bettman said. “I am satisfied what was going on was beyond anything that he could deal with. I think the best way to handle something like this is to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis.

“You find out what happened and deal with it in an appropriate manner.”

When pressed further, Bettman said, “Those that needed to be separated from the game have been separated.”

He also said anyone involved in the scandal that wants to return to the NHL will have to go through him first.

“Nobody has been made any promises,” Bettman said. “Absolutely not.”

A news conference in Winnipeg that was to include Cheveldayoff and Jets governor and executive chairman Mark Chipman was scrapped on Monday because Chipman is ill with vertigo. It is now scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

Bettman and Daly announced that the league will be bring in outside experts to evaluate the resources it provides for victims of abuse to be certain they are appropriate. The NHL will also be part of a wider effort to make sure those resources can be expanded to the larger hockey community.

Bettman met with Beach several days after he appeared on TSN with Rick Westhead for a gut-wrenching interview.

“I was horrified,” Bettman said of his feelings as he watched. “I was emotional. I was distressed. I was sorry, as a personal matter, that anyone had go through what he did.”