By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on February 1, 2024.
TORONTO – The NHL’s brightest lights were tight-lipped Thursday about the charges against five players from Canada’s 2018 world junior team related to an alleged gang rape.
Cale Makar – on the roster that year, but not in attendance at the London, Ont., gala that preceded the incident – said at the league’s all-star media junket he’s been instructed not to comment.
“Straightforward from the start that I wasn’t there,” said the Colorado Avalanche defenceman. “Very fortunate bounce to not, obviously, be a part of something like that.
“But again, I’m just gonna leave it back to the people who are handling, obviously, the work right now. Again, I can’t stress enough that I wasn’t a part of that.”
Lawyers for NHL players Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames and Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, as well as Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, said Tuesday their clients have been charged in connection to the alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2018 world junior squad in London.
All four players said through their lawyers they intend to plead not guilty.
The incident allegedly occurred following that Hockey Canada gala where the players were honoured for their victory at that year’s tournament.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Robert Thomas, who was also on the team, repeatedly declined to discuss the charges, the alleged incident or the fallout on Thursday.
“I’ve said my comments and my statements,” said the St. Louis Blues centre. “I’ve co-operated with the investigation, and that’s all I’m going to comment (on).
“That’s all I’ve got for ya.”
Asked if the NHL is specifically requesting players decline to speak on the case, Thomas replied: “That’s all I can say at this point.”
Flyers winger Travis Konecny declined to answer questions about Hart before a member of the team’s public relations staff cut in and said bluntly: “No questions on Carter Hart.”
“I’m here just to enjoy the experience,” Konecny said.
Dube, Hart, McLeod and Foote – all 25 years old – are among five players from the 2018 world junior team recently given indefinite leave from their pro clubs.
A fifth player, former Ottawa Senators forward Alex Formenton, surrendered to police Sunday.
London police have scheduled a Monday press conference “to provide an update related to a sexual assault allegation involving members of the 2018 Canadian world junior hockey team.”
A woman identified as E.M. in court documents filed a $3.55-million lawsuit in April 2022 against eight unnamed players, Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League. Hockey Canada quietly settled the matter out of court before TSN broke the story the following month.
Subsequent revelations the national organization maintained a fund drawing on minor hockey fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including lawsuits related to sexual assault, sparked an unprecedented backlash against the sport’s governing body.
Hockey Canada’s governance and transparency were subsequently called into question, leading to a series of parliamentary hearings, along with funding and sponsorship freezes or cancellations.
After a string of disastrous Parliament Hill appearances in Ottawa, Hockey Canada president and CEO Scott Smith left the organization in October 2022, the same day the entire board of directors resigned.
London police closed an initial investigation in February 2019 without filing charges, but reopened the case in 2022.
A lead investigator wrote in legal documents filed with Ontario courts later that year there were grounds to believe a woman was sexually assaulted by five players.
The NHL launched its own investigation, which deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in June had concluded.
Hockey Canada said in November the findings of its independent third-party report are under appeal.
All players from the 2018 junior team, meanwhile, remain banned from international events.
Makar said that made for a strange end to last season.
“It was a little bit weird because, obviously, you have the world championships that you can go over to and I wasn’t eligible,” Makar said. “Having that in the back of my mind and not being possible, it’s tough. But at the end of the day, actions have consequences, and that’s what I was taught growing up.
“Regardless of that situation that’s going on right now “¦ I’m just gonna kind of divert back to what’s been said.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2024.
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