While Still Awaiting a Response from Hockey Canada and the NHL amid Rumors Suspensions are Imminent, Catching up with Ousted Coaches

(Photo credit Lethbridge News Now) Speculation around the hockey world is that Hockey Canada and the NHL are close to announcing suspensions for specific players stemming from allegations that members of the 2018 Canadian Men’s World Junior team sexually assaulted a young woman in London, Ontario, following a fundraising event for Hockey Canada. The London police responded to questions from The Athletic’s Katie Strang on September 8th to say that the investigation remains “active and ongoing.”[1] NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly replied to inquires from Strang as well, stating that there was “nothing new to report.”[2]

Hockey Canada took the step in March to temporarily remove all members of the 2018 World Junior team from consideration for international competition until the investigation is complete.[3] Since then, there has been lots of speculation, but nothing concrete. While fans may want answers and individual NHL teams probably want some certainty as to any player suspensions, until there are criminal charges laid it is hard to see how the NHL can justify suspending players for non-NHL related events that took place, allegedly, in 2018. If there are suspensions, especially if there are no criminal charges, the NHL Players Association will probably be forced to defend players whose moral judgement not all members will agree to support.

The latest round of speculation came after fans noticed on Thursday night, September 7th, that Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart made his Instagram account private, limited comments on all posts, and removed “Flyers” from his bio.[4] Hart, who has never publicly denied his involvement in the 2018 incident, is widely believed to have been at least aware of the incident at the time.[5] Several other players who were on the 2018 team also went dark on Instagram.

While awaiting any final word from the London police, which in all likelihood will need to occur before the NHL acts, three prominent former NHL figures – two coaches and one general manager – appeared to either attempt to or did make amends for their past actions. Joel Quinnville and Stan Bowman, former Blackhawks coach and general manger respectively, have been banned indefinitely from the NHL since October 2021 for their involvement in the cover up of the alleged sexual assault of Blackhawks player Kyle Beach in 2010 by video coach Brad Aldrich. [6] Both spoke to current NHL general managers and coaches at a meeting the league held at an O’Hare Airport hotel ballroom on Friday September 8th in anticipation of the upcoming season.[7] Mark Lazerus of The Athletic reported that Gary Bettman, who insisted the appearances were not related to the sort of formal review that would be needed to reinstate either man, characterized their appearances as a chance to share their experiences and their “lessons learned.”[8] Bettman stated that “it gave them an opportunity to tell everybody about their experience.”[9] Bettman has the final say on whether to reinstate either Quinnville or Bowman and indicated that he is still considering the issue. According to Mark Lazerus, “Quenneville has spoken extensively with hockey activist Brock McGillis about power dynamics and player relations, and Bowman has been quietly working with Sheldon Kennedy’s Respect Group for more than a year.”

Overarching questions about the utility of restorative practices underlie this situation. What does the NHL, as a league, want to see from Quinnville and Bowman? What criteria will Gary Bettman use to determine if they are sufficiently “rehabilitated” to return to the NHL? Are there failures by those with power over players that are simply too egregious – actions where retribution, not education and restitution, are what is called for?

The Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Lethbridge Hurricanes appear to have determined that former NHL coach Bill Peters has demonstrated sufficient remorse and self-reflection to return to coaching at a high level.[10] Peters resigned from his duties with the NHL’s Calgary Flames in 2019 after player Akim Aliu came forward with details of an incident in the minor leagues in which Peters used racialized language in addressing Aliu. Peters addressed the incident during his introductory press conference with Lethbridge on Wednesday August 30th, saying, “I want to sincerely apologize for the hurt and disappointment I caused to Akim, the hockey and the racialized community with my hurtful language.”[11] There are additional allegations that Peters kicked and hit players during games while coaching the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.[12] With Lethbridge, Peters will be working with players between the ages of sixteen and twenty years old. The team and league defended the hiring by pointing to the due diligence process they went through. The team’s general manager, Peter Anholt, explained that he thought that Peters’s own work to educate himself on diversity issues, along with the WHL’s Code of Conduct, would ensure that the Lethbridge Hurricanes organization was a safe place for players.[13] During the press conference Anholt said, “I know the situation well enough, I know our players, I’ve recruited our players, and I know our parents, [that] I feel very comfortable with the personal growth Bill’s been through, and how safe our environment is going to be for him and the players.”[14]

The WHL’s commissioner, Ron Robison, said that while the WHL reached out to all leagues that Peters has been a part of, including the NHL, the decision to allow Lethbridge to hire him was ultimately a WHL league decision. Robison explained, “after a thorough review, speaking with representatives from Shades of Humanity, and receiving a commitment from Bill to continue on his path of anti-racism, self-growth and redemption, the WHL is satisfied Bill is ready to return coaching in the WHL.” Hockey Canada, which is the umbrella organization under which the WHL falls, is facing issues of insurability stemming from its handling of the 2018 World Junior team scandal and of a suit naming, among the other major junior leagues, the WHL and member teams as having failed to stop violent and sexually abusive hazing.[15] Peters may prove to have learned his lessons, but with many talented coaches available, it seems an odd choice that may invite litigation should anything go wrong.

[1] https://twitter.com/KatieJStrang/status/1700143062201081902

[2] Id.

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/hockey-canada-report-investigation-2018-world-junior-team-1.6792639

[4] https://broadstreetbuzz.com/2023/09/08/flyers-hart-hockey-canada-go-dark/

[5] Id.

[6] https://theathletic.com/4845655/2023/09/08/quenneville-bowman-bettman-blackhawks-scandal/

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] https://www.mylethbridgenow.com/32612/news/bill-peters-named-canes-new-head-coach/

[11] Id.

[12] https://www.canescountry.com/2019/11/26/20984344/michal-jordan-accuses-bill-peters-of-physical-mistreatment-during-peters-time-as-hurricanes-coach

[13] https://www.mylethbridgenow.com/32612/news/bill-peters-named-canes-new-head-coach/

[14] Id.

[15] https://ublawsportsforum.com/2023/09/08/what-happens-if-hockey-becomes-uninsurable/

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