Editor’s note: The following story deals with sexual assault, and may be upsetting for some readers. If you or someone you know is in need of support, those in Canada can find province-specific centres, crisis lines and services here. For readers in America, a list of resources and references for survivors and their loved ones can be found here.
Following Tuesday’s release of the findings of a four-month investigation into sexual assault allegations made by two former Chicago Blackhawks players against a former assistant coach, team leaders Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane spoke Wednesday to address their knowledge of the situation, and its fallout.
Earlier Wednesday, Kyle Beach — who identified himself as the investigation’s John Doe in an interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead — said he believes every player in the locker room knew about the incident at the centre of the investigation, due to the homophobic slurs and taunts that Beach says were directed at him on multiple occasions during that 2009-10 post-season, and afterwards.
Asked what he knew, and what he heard, Toews said he was unaware of the situation at the time.
“Listen, I mean, at the end of the day I don’t wish to exonerate myself from this situation in any way by saying that I didn’t know, but the truth is that I had not heard about it until training camp the next year,” Toews said post-game Wednesday. “At the end of the day, that doesn’t change what happened, it doesn’t take that away, it doesn’t make it go away. At the end of the day, collectively, as players, if guys did know, hindsight’s 20/20 — I think we wish we could’ve done something differently, myself included.
“My heart goes out to Kyle for what he dealt with, and I wish I could’ve done something. At the end of the day, it’s obviously not an excuse looking back, but the truth is a lot of us were focused on just playing hockey and doing what we were doing every single day. And if you do hear rumours, it’s almost just in the back of your mind. And now when you go through the detail of it all, it looks ugly, and it’s really hard to stomach the fact that you [didn’t] dive into something like that a little bit more, and take it more seriously, on the spot. But, it’s always easy to say in hindsight.
“I feel a ton for what Kyle went through and what he’s dealing with at this point. I don’t know what else to say. I think the guys that were part of that group all wish they could’ve done something different.”
Speaking from his home while in COVID protocol, Kane echoed his captain’s comments regarding his awareness of the situation.
“I didn’t know anything at the time,” Kane said. “Even [Wednesday], when Kyle came out as John Doe, that’s the first time I knew that it was him. And as far as the bullying and the different comments, I don’t remember any of that either. Listen, I think it was a terrible situation, and I obviously feel for him if things were getting thrown his way — you know, tough words, bullying, different things like that. I definitely feel for him if that stuff happened.”
Noting that he first heard of Beach’s story a year later, ahead of the 2010-11 season, Toews was asked if he felt compelled to take action when he did become aware of what had happened between Beach and video coach Brad Aldrich.
“I mean, no, not really,” he said. “I think, to be honest with you, and straightforward, I thought what I heard was the beginning and the end of it. And not that it was a joke, but it was something that wasn’t taken super seriously at the time. I thought Brad being let go, or resigning from the organization, was the way that it was dealt with, and to me it was water under the bridge. Had I been more connected in any way to the situation, and known some of the more gory details of it, I’d like to say yeah, I would’ve acted differently in my role as captain, for sure.”
While Toews said he and Beach didn’t know each other well, Kane said he and the then-Rockford IceHogs winger had connected during prior training camps together.
“He was drafted the year after me, and I remember just going out to eat with him a few times, hanging out with him and Akim Aliu as well. Us three seemed to be together a lot,” Kane said.
“[It’s a] terrible situation, and very courageous for him to come out and let his name be known to the world after everything he went through. … Hearing that it was him, and with the news and everything going on, I obviously feel for him, compassionate for him and his family. And I wish back then we could’ve done some different things, or knew about some different things, that maybe we could’ve helped him.”
During that same 2009-10 season, Aliu was subjected to racial slurs from Bill Peters, then the head coach of Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford. Later that year, amid the 2010 post-season, Beach was called up from Rockford to serve as a Black Ace for the Blackhawks’ playoff run, during which time the incident with Aldrich occurred. Toews and Kane were asked whether the situation affects how they view that champion 2009-10 season, and the legacies of departed executives Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac.
“It’s tough. I mean, you have a lot of great memories from that year. I think learning the news and how everything went down, it probably — I mean definitely — could’ve been handled differently, most importantly for Kyle’s sake,” said Kane. “It seemed like the organization had to do what they had to do as far as making some necessary moves, as far as guys that were with the team back then that were still with the team now and aren’t with us anymore.
“Listen, I knew Stan very well, I know him as a great man. He did a lot for me personally, coming into the league and just over the course of my career. I’m sure he probably would’ve handled things a little bit differently nowadays. But what happened happened in the past, and I think the organization made the right moves to get the Blackhawks going forward in the right steps, and making sure we’re trending forward.”
Added Toews on that 2010 season: “It puts things in perspective. I think when you’re chasing your dream of winning the Stanley Cup, it becomes the only thing. As they say, winning is everything, and it just consumes your whole world. Obviously, it was a special memory in a lot of ways, but when something like this tarnishes it, it definitely makes you realize that there’s more to life than hockey. In so many ways, this is an unfortunate situation.
“I think winning the Stanley Cup that year is beside the point. So, whether we won or not, do we wish that this would’ve been dealt with different in some ways? Probably. Do we wish we could take it back and it never happened, and young players didn’t have to deal with a situation like that? Absolutely. It’s just tough all around.”
Toews also took issue with the dismissal of Bowman and MacIsaac, who both parted ways with the organization after the findings of Jenner & Block’s investigation were made public Tuesday.
“I mean, to me, Stan and Al — you know, make any argument you want, they’re not directly complicit in the activities that happened,” Toews said. “You know, it’s not up to me to comment on whether they would’ve liked to deal with it differently or not. I just know them as people and I’ve had a relationship and friendship with them for a long time just being part of the Blackhawks family. People like Al and Stan have made coming to the Blackhawks — for players around the league who come here to play on this team — one of the special places to play hockey. To me, I have a ton of respect for them as people.
“Again, how the situation went down, what the timeline was, what they knew — I can’t really comment on that. It’s obviously a tough day. Regardless of the mistakes that may have been made, for someone like Stan, who’s done so much for the Blackhawks, and Al as well, to lose everything they care about and their livelihoods as well, I don’t understand how that makes it go away. To just kind of delete them from existence and [say], ’That’s it, we’ll never hear from them again.’ So, I have a lot of respect for them as people. They’re good people. And again, when it comes down to how they feel about looking back on the situation, that’s not up to me to comment on.”
Asked if he’s yet had a chance to connect with Beach since the investigation and the latter’s interview Wednesday, Kane said he hasn’t yet, but would like to reach out to his former teammate.
“I don’t know if he wants to hear from us or not, but I would like to reach out to him and say that I wish I knew more at that time, in that situation, if I could’ve done anything to help him out or not,” he said.
“Obviously he’s been living with this for a long time, and it takes a lot of courage by him to put his name behind the story.”