WARNING: The article below deals with sexual assault and may be upsetting for some readers. If you or someone you know is in need of support in the United States, here is a list of references and resources for survivors of sexual assault.
After a franchise best 6-0-0 start to the season, Icarus came crashing down into the sea yesterday for the Florida Panthers. This has to do with Head Coach Joel Quenneville and his involvement with the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks executives in the Brad Aldrich scandal.
For those who don’t know, Brad Aldrich is a former video coach for the Chicago Blackhawks, serving in the role from 2008-2010, helping lead the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup. Aldrich is also a convicted sex offender, as he was found guilty of sexual assault of a minor at his job coaching a high school hockey team in Michigan. Aldrich departed the organization shortly after the team won the Stanley Cup, their first cup in nearly sixty years. However, that cup is now forever tarnished by the actions of Aldrich during the postseason and the actions taken by Blackhawks management in the aftermath of that incident.
For those who don’t know, the incident I am referring to took place between Aldrich and an unnamed Blackhawks player named John Doe. Doe filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks earlier this year. During the 2010 playoffs (this is public information that was released in a report, by an independent law firm commissioned by the Blackhawks to investigate the incident and the handling of said incident. The report is here), John Doe was a 20 year old prospect that was called up to the Blackhawks to serve as a “black ace”. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, teams will often call up several prospects to serve as reserves, in case players on the main roster go down. Black Aces rarely ever play, are often separate from the team and practice on their own. Aldrich was the video coach for the Blackhawks, and his job was to put together game film and help players prepare. Aldrich would interact with the black aces, which was an extremely odd thing to do for a coach in the midst of a playoff run, even if he wasn’t highly ranked in the staffing order.
Aldrich lured John Doe and other Black Aces into his confidence by telling the players that he had sway over roster decisions made by then head coach Joel Quenneville. Whether or not that is true is uncertain. On the night of either May 8th or 9th, Aldrich invited Doe to his house, on the premise that he would watch hockey with Doe and help Doe improve his game. Aldrich told Doe that he thought Doe was working hard, and that he could get Doe into the lineup by giving him a good word to Coach Q. However, Aldrich also said that if he said something bad about a player to Q, that player would be buried in the organization. Doe seeing an opportunity to improve his game and potentially get a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup accepted the invitation. Doe had no reason to suspect that Aldrich had other motives.
This is where the story gets murky. All parties agree that a sexual encounter between Aldrich and Doe occured, but Aldrich says it was consensual, but considering Aldrich’s track record, that is a complete load of bullshit. Doe alleges that the encounter was non-consensual. Aldrich made sexual advances towards Doe, but Doe physically rebuffed Aldrich. After, the older Aldrich threatened Doe with a souvenir baseball bat, and forced him to engage in sex acts with Aldrich, otherwise Aldrich would’ve destroyed Doe’s career.
Doe would report the incident to a friend in the organization and word eventually reached Senior Director of Hockey Administration Al MacIssac around May 21st. MacIssac would call a meeting of several Blackhawks higher ups, including Joel Quenneville.
On May 23rd, 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-2 in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. The series was a sweep, meaning that Game 4 clinched the Blackhawks a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. Shortly after the game, several higher-ups in the organization met to discuss the incident between Aldrich and Doe. Party to the meeting were: Stan Bowman (General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks), MacIssac, John McDonough (President), Jim Gary (Mental Health Coach), Kevin Cheveldayoff (Assistant General Manager, Current GM of the Winnipeg Jets), Jay Blunk (Senior Vice President) and Joel Quenneville (Head Coach, Current Head Coach of the Florida Panthers).
The meeting discussed what to do with the Aldrich situation. This is where things get confusing because everyone in the room has a different story. It seems that most left with the impression that McDonough would take care of the situation and notify the appropriate people. The incident would not be reported until June 14th, after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Aldrich would go on to continue to coach through the Finals and committed further transgressions, such as: allegedly sexually harassing another Black Ace the week after his encounter with Doe and inappropriately touching a team intern the night the Blackhawks won the cup, June 9th. Aldrich resigned from the organization on June 16th and would bounce around before he was arrested and sentenced to nine months in prison for sexual assault of a minor in Michigan in 2013.
THE CASE AGAINST JOEL QUENNEVILLE
The case against Joel Quenneville is pretty damning, but it isn’t bulletproof. I will break down the points against Quenneville here.
According to an interview with the HR Director, the HR Director alleged that he was told by Gary that Quenneville was upset during the meeting, because he worried about the incident’s fall-out affecting team chemistry. McDonagh corroborated Gary’s alleged assertion that Quenneville became agitated, but didn’t elaborate on the reasoning for Quenneville’s agitation.
Stan Bowman alleged that Quenneville also said that it was hard for the team to get where they were at the time and that they couldn’t deal with the issue until after the finals.
Quenneville also had a ten-minute phone call with Gary the day after. Both Gary and Quenneville did not remember the call, which was uncovered by phone records, and neither recalled the topic of conversation, which is extremely suspicious.
The most damning point is Aldrich’s last performance evaluation. Despite being unsigned, the evaluation was clearly written by Quenneville. The problem? The evaluation was written on June 29, 2010, THIRTEEN DAYS AFTER Aldrich was forced to resign. The evaluation presents Aldrich in a very positive light.
Additionally, if Q had any knowledge of the situation, he has painted himself into a corner. He denied knowing about the incident until Doe filed suit in 2021, eleven years after the incident. When asked if he stands by his statement today, Quenneville confirmed it.
If Quenneville is found to have had any inkling of any knowledge of the incident, which the above suggests, there is no way around it. Joel Quenneville looks like Joe Paterno here, but maybe even worse, as Paterno did report Jerry Sandusky’s behavior. If anything Quenneville did the reverse of Paterno if this holds up, putting the ambitions of a championship over stopping a deviant sexual predator that would go on to harm children. If this is true, Quenneville himself may be liable for failing to report Aldrich and may face legal repercussions from both John Doe and any other victims of Aldrich, including then-17 year old who I believe also filed suit under the pseudonym John Doe(2). I don’t think there is any criminal negligence as I believe the statue of limitations has expired, but if true, he is liable in a civil court.
THE CASE FOR JOEL QUENNEVILLE
The biggest point in Quenneville’s favor is that he allegedly did not hear the whole story. Quenneville was not present when the meeting started, and only was called in after it was suggested that they do so. Quenneville alleges that he was only told that an event had taken place, where allegedly a Blackhawks coach did something improper (which can mean anything) and whether or not to take it public. Quenneville denied knowing specifics such as who was involved, including Aldrich. If Quenneville is telling the truth, this explains his reasoning for writing that performance evaluation for Aldrich, as he never realized that Aldrich was the perpetrator.
Stan Bowman’s testimony is also very questionable. Bowman suggests in his testimony that Q was one of the main proponents to just put it aside for the time being. However, Bowman also doesn’t recall anyone explicitly referencing the notion that the issue should be tabled until after the playoffs. This makes no sense. If Bowman can’t recall anyone suggesting to table it until after the playoffs, why is he saying that Quenneville basically did exactly that. Bowman is one of the primary witnesses against Quenneville and is far from a reliable one.
Additionally, many may be overplaying Aldrich’s importance in the organization. The idea that Aldrich had the ear of Quenneville seems to have been planted by Aldrich himself in order to make himself look better and to obtain access to take advantage of young players in the organization. Quenneville also seemingly came out of the meeting with the impression that the matter was going to be investigated.
Another matter is Quenneville’s 10 minute phone call with Gary the day after the meeting. Quenneville stated he didn’t recall what it was about, but it may have been about some family matters. Gary was not asked about the phone call, which I will discuss why that is important later.
Best case scenario, Quenneville is an oblivious idiot who distracted himself into something so deeply that he didn’t see something worse. That’s not exactly a positive outcome either.
Quenneville’s statement on not knowing what happened in the meeting is contradicted by Cheveldayoff, who says that the meeting explicitly stated that Aldrich had inappropriate interactions w/ two black aces. Once again, Quenneville joined the meeting late, so it is unclear whether or not he was filled in on what happened.
THE CRUCIAL ERROR
The investigation makes an absolutely damning error involving Quenneville that can potentially alter the whole story. The investigation does NOT mention speaking to Gary about his phone call with Quenneville the day after the meeting. This is absolutely crucial witness testimony that is needed to either exonerate or condemn Quenneville. The investigation never mentions them even asking Gary about the phone call, rather they just pulled records. Even if Gary couldn’t recall the conversation, that is still a little bit more helpful. Jim Gary must be interviewed about that phone call.
The report came public yesterday. Stan Bowman and Al MacIssac “resigned” from the organization. John McDonough was fired by the Blackhawks in early 2020. Gary Bettman put out a statement suspending McDonough, MacIssac and Bowman from reentering the National Hockey League unless they have a meeting with Bettman. This is highly reminiscent of what Major League Baseball did with Pete Rose.
Bettman has also demanded interviews with Quenneville and Cheveldayoff. Quenneville will attend a meeting with Bettman tomorrow. The Panthers seem to be relying on what Bettman decides to do when it comes to Q’s fate.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN?
Personally I don’t know. I don’t know what Quenneville knew. If he knew a little bit and that is confirmed, he should be fired, no matter how well the team is doing. The Chicago Blackhawks put championship aspirations above protecting society and are paying the price for it. The Panthers, through no fault of their own are likely to become unfortunate victims of this circumstance. I’m all for forgiveness, and winning seems to solve everything, but this cuts deep into the hearts of many. If Bettman takes any form of disciplinary action against Quenneville, in my opinion that means that Quenneville had culpability in what happened and should never step foot behind an NHL bench again. If Bettman clears him, Quenneville has a lot of work to do to get back into the good graces of the hockey community.
The decision to let him coach tonight is one of the most stupid things I’ve ever seen. The meeting is tomorrow, the team can last one game without their head coach. This is a massive distraction to the organization and puts the Panthers in a bad PR light, something the team can’t afford as it attempts to spread its brand across Florida. There is no reason why he should be behind the bench tonight. One of the assistants should be running things. This also puts guys into awkward situations, like how are Steve Goldstein and Randy Moller supposed to do their job with this giant story around them, and they can’t mention it because the team is making no comment (which is the right decision)? Goldstein and Moller are fantastic announcers, so I think they’ll be fine. Also how is poor Jameson Olive going to be able to do his job writing for the team website, when the only questions will be about the scandal? How are the players supposed to feel comfortable with a guy that put winning over their personal well-being leading them? This needs to be cleared and solved and the best way to do that is the Bettman meeting, which is being held extremely promptly. I didn’t expect a meeting for a few weeks. Since Bettman is granting the sit-down so soon, Q should just prepare for the meeting. Head coaches do miss games from time to time. Sam Bennett isn’t there to torch us for 4 goals in Calgary, while Gerard Gallant is at his mother’s funeral, because Gallant is a Ranger and Bennett is a Panther now.
I am reserving full judgement until Q meets w/ Bettman. Bill Zito has had the midas touch so far and I believe if he is forced to, he will find the best coach to replace Q, whether it be someone from the outside like Bruce Boudreau or John Tortorella, or maybe one of the assistants being promoted. Quenneville’s system helps the team win games, but the culture is what drives it. This could poison the culture far more than Q just being removed.
Additionally, what happened to John Doe is a travesty and the fact that justice took this long is unacceptable. I really hope Doe and other victims of sexual assault are able to eventually find justice. I am confident that the organization will make the right decision.