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Chicago Scandal from an Impartial View, Plus Coach Green’s Empathy

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Kyle Beach during his interview with Rick Westhead of TSN.

*The strong article below Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Travis Green’s comments on former NHL’er Kyle Beach’s revelations and interview with TSN was first presented Thursday in the international hockey newsletter Hockey Wanderlüst. Writer Risto Pakarinen is Stockholm based, and has been covering the NHL and international hockey for decades. He’s the author of several books. Find more at hockeywanderlust.com. The article contains opinions that are Risto’s.

Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Travis Green:

“It kind of punches you in the gut,” Green started. “It was hard to watch the first, actually every time I’ve watched parts of it, it’s been hard to watch. And by hard I mean emotional, sad. You really can’t imagine what a person goes through, what Kyle went through, in that scenario it takes you back to being a younger player. I also think it’s important to acknowledge him, being courageous, being brave enough to come out and talk about it. You can see and feel how hard that was for him. You hope it helps him heal, the wounds would obviously be big with something like that, and that it helps a lot of other people in the world, not just sports but society in general. There’s no place for things like that to happen to people in sport or in society.”

Blackhawks Down

Risto Pakarinen

As horrible as it is, who was surprised to hear that the Chicago Blackhawks’ management and coaching staff didn’t act when they were informed of a sexual assault accusations in the organization?

I wasn’t.

Isn’t coach Joel Quenneville’s comment about “the challenge of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals and a desire to focus on the team and the playoff” classic coach-speak and mentality? To hell with distractions. In his meeting with the investigators, Quenneville said that “his focus was on winning and this meeting [during the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks] was unexpected.”

According to the report, then-President John McDonough “did not want any negative publicity during the Stanley Cup Finals (sic)” and had, according to the then-Director of HR, informed the HR about the meeting a few weeks prior, in which the brass had decided not to alert HR “or do anything about the incident during the playoffs so as not to disturb team chemistry.”

In other words, winning really was the only thing. But, isn’t that what we’re told all day every day from the day we step inside the sports bubble?

This Blackhawks scandal is almost a case study of things that go wrong in the hockey environment, all the way from the hiring of Brad Aldrich to today.

How did he get the job? According to the report, Dale Tallon, the Blackhawks GM “received a message from an individual affiliated with the San Jose Sharks, recommending that Tallon look out for Aldrich’s resumé.” The Sharks’ equipment manager was Aldrich’s father, and Tallon was friends with the Sharks GM Doug Wilson.

Tallon fixed the interview, Aldrich got the job.

Funny how all the things hockey world supposedly considers important were thrown by the wayside in the pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

For example, say, accountability. Quenneville didn’t think a sexual assault of his video coach was anything he needed to think about, he was simply a hockey coach whose job it was to win games. (Then-)GM Stan Bowman sent the matter up the chain of command, and then promptly left it there.

The players? They tried to push it back. No distractions.

“Once the season started, I heard that something that happened, that much I can say,” Viktor Stålberg, who joined the team in the off-season after the Cup win, told Swedish Aftonbladet. “But it wasn’t anything we talked about in any large scope. I heard [Aldrich’s] name and that something had happened but that was it. It wasn’t anything the players talked about, and I didn’t ask about it, either.”

“I didn’t know it was that serious, nor was I under the impression that any of the players I hung out with knew about it. I don’t think any of the players knew that much. There was talk that he was “creepy”, that’s what I heard,” Stålberg said.

That’s hard to believe. Nowhere do rumours fly around as fast and freely as in the hockey world, but there you have it. To quote Danny DeVito’s character in L.A. Confidential, it was kept “off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.”

But somebody knew something. Brent Sopel knew. Nick Boynton spoke with Paul Vincent, the skills coach. He took it up with others, and there was a meeting. Boynton told TSN in July that “everybody knew about it.” So did Sopel.

A man’s life is in tatters because (almost) everybody around him, the whole team – the team! – chose to turn a blind eye to another man’s abuse. It wasn’t their business, they didn’t want distractions, they would sweep it under the rug until the time was right. The most depressing thing about the case is that the Hawks – who failed miserably – probably did no less than an average sports organization would have. They kicked the can down the road, then got rid of their problem – the video coach – quietly. Only, the coach got another job, in part thanks to the references from Chicago.

That he got the position of video coach of the under-18 women’s Team USA wasn’t the Blackhawks’ problem anymore. (There’s another word for women under 18: “girls.”) Neither was it their problem that he sexually assaulted two players at the Miami (Ohio) University and then did the same to another player at his next stop as a volunteer coach of a high school hockey team.

From early age, hockey players are brought up to circle the wagons, keep their head down, and mind their own business. What happens in the room, stays in the room.

Unfortunately, the room can’t handle matters of this kind and magnitude.

It takes the courage of one’s convictions to step up and ring that alarm bell. To step up.

Being a whistleblower won’t make you popular. But it’s the right thing to do. It’s disappointing that so many had the chance to do the right thing, and so few of them took the opportunity to do it.

Even now, Bowman’s statement was all about him. The word “apology” was nowhere to be found.

The people who did nothing or, worse, covered it up should be dismissed, get a lengthy ban from the sport, and, should they want to return to hockey, go through an educational program before applying for reinstatement with the Commissioner.

The Blackhawks got everything wrong.

But they did win the Cup.

 

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