Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff publicly addressed his role in the Blackhawks scandal for the first time on Tuesday and said he was unaware until only recently about the severity of the allegations made against a video coach in Chicago in 2010 when he was the club’s assistant general manager.
Flanked by Mark Chipman, the chairman of the Jets’ ownership group, Cheveldayoff maintained, as he did in an independent report released last week by Chicago law firm Jenner & Block, that he believed Brad Aldrich had been accused of sexual harassment by minor-league player Kyle Beach, and understood that the matter was being handled by other executives with the team.
“Kyle was failed by a system that should have helped him but did not,” Cheveldayoff said during a 70-minute news conference in Winnipeg. “I am sorry that my own assumptions about that system were clearly not good enough.
“I am sorry I can’t change what took place or how it was handled back then, but I can learn from this and assure something like this can never happen again.
“Had I known there was a sexual assault, I would hope my response would have risen to another level,” Cheveldayoff added. “There is what I knew, and what I know now. New issues have come to light and it changes things and makes you want to ask questions.”
Beach filed a lawsuit against Chicago in May for failing to respond to his allegations of sexual abuse. A second lawsuit was also filed against the organization in May by a high-school player in Michigan whom Aldrich later sexually assaulted as an assistant coach, after he was allowed to resign from the NHL team.
Cheveldayoff attended a meeting with other club officials on May 23, 2010, during which the allegations against Aldrich were discussed. The report, which was commissioned by Chicago after it was sued, found no action was taken because the team feared negative publicity and that it could derail the team from its playoff run.
It wasn’t until weeks later, after Chicago won the Stanley Cup, that the allegations were forwarded to the human-resources director, who then allowed Aldrich to quietly resign from the team rather than face an investigation.
Stan Bowman, the Hawks general manager at the time, resigned on Oct. 26, the same morning the report was made public. Joel Quenneville, the team’s coach in 2010, stepped down as the bench boss of the Florida Panthers after a meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Thusday.
Cheveldayoff met with Bettman on Friday and was not disciplined. The club was fined US$2-million by the league.
Cheveldayoff said when he learned Aldrich was no longer with the organization, he believed it was because Beach’s allegations had been addressed.
Emotional at times, Chipman said people close to him had been sexually abused and he understands the devastation that is caused.
“Sexual abuse is never self-contained,” Chipman said. “It’s not an isolated incident that gets sealed up. It has long-reaching implications.”
Chipman promised to use his influence to help promote a more robust education program, which Bettman said on Monday the league will soon roll out with help from experts.
“There are systemic problems that will require systemic solutions,” Chipman said.
Chicago – a team the Jets had previously looked to for inspiration for its win-at-all-costs mentality – also won titles in both 2013 and 2015.
“Nothing would give me greater joy than seeing the people who have supported us be able to celebrate a Stanley Cup,” Chipman said of Jets fans. “But it’ll never ever, ever, ever, ever be at the expense of a human being.
The Winnipeg news conference was held hours after a Chicago law firm announced the imminent filing of an unrelated sexual-assault lawsuit against a former minor-league coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins, which will also name as defendants former general manager Bill Guerin, the hockey club and the Lemieux Group, which is owned in part by Hockey Hall of Fame member Mario Lemieux.
The lawsuit will allege Erin Skalde, the wife of Jarrod Skalde, the former assistant coach of Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Pennsylvania, was inappropriately touched by the team’s head coach, Clark Donatelli, during a road trip to Providence, R.I., on Nov. 11, 2018.
A news conference to discuss the allegations scheduled for Tuesday was postponed after the firm that represents Erin Skalde, Romanucci & Blandin LLC, said a second woman had come forward to detail a similar assault against Donatelli and more time was needed to investigate her claim.
A second lawsuit that was filed last year in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania on behalf of Jarrod Skalde against the Lemieux Group, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Donatelli is still pending. Jarrod Skalde is represented by separate counsel, Fish Potter Bolanos P.C., which is also based in Chicago. That lawsuit alleges Skalde was wrongfully dismissed after he filed a complaint with Guerin.
The latter is now general manager of the Minnesota Wild and the assistant general manager of the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team.
The Penguins have responded with a statement saying they took the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton incident very seriously and acted immediately.
“The team investigated and addressed the alleged incident within hours of being notified in June of 2019, despite the fact that Mr. Skalde delayed seven months before he reported it.
“Immediately upon receiving the report, a full investigation was conducted within 72 hours, and the former coach resigned from the organization.
“Following the report, Mr. Skalde continued to coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for an additional year, until we made significant staff reductions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”