Before he coached the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups and moved on to Florida Panthers, Joel Quenneville was celebrated in his hometown of Windsor, Ont., where he captained the OHL team and was inducted into the regional hall of fame.
On Thursday, Quenneville, 63, resigned from the Panthers, part of the fallout from a sex assault scandal involving former Blackhawks assistant coach Brad Aldrich, who’s been accused of sexually assaulting player Kyle Beach, then 20, in 2010 as well as another unnamed player.
Now, interests in Windsor-Essex are reacting to the results of Chicago’s internal investigation of the allegations that were released this week and have led to Quenneville’s resignation, as well as the departures of the Blackhawks’ general manager and senior vice-president of hockey operations.
Lydia Fiorini, executive director of the Essex County Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, said she wanted to centre on the survivor, Beach, who chose to reveal his identity this week as the John Doe in the case.
“First, I want to acknowledge Kyle Beach and whoever the other player is for coming forward, both at the time that the incidents were happening and also now again, to remind the NHL that something horrible happened and nothing changed as a result of it,” Fiorini said Friday.
“If Kyle Beach did not speak up now, 11 years later, they basically would have gotten away with it and nobody would have known. And so it took 11 years for someone to actually expose what happened, and in addition, you may start seeing that there are other situations that are coming forward because for the very first time, and I think Kyle Beach spoke about that the lack of support he received 10, 11 years ago… However, he’s amazed at the amount of support that he’s receiving now and how there has been a shift in that culture of support.”
Quenneville has said he was unaware of the allegations until this summer, a stance he reiterated as recently as Wednesday morning, something Beach has disputed. Quenneville, the second-winningest coach in NHL history behind Scotty Bowman, resigned from the Panthers on Thursday after meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Fiorini criticized Quenneville, saying his inaction in the Beach case was hurtful and he didn’t act on multiple opportunities to hold himself accountable for what had happened.
“In this particular situation, I think that he knows his role in this, and when this was disclosed, he needed to take accountability then, and it is unfortunate that it had to be exposed the way it has 11 years later for him to finally take some level of accountability.”
Blackhawks criticized for inaction
The independent investigation found Quenneville and others in the organization did not prioritize addressing Beach’s allegations, presumably because they did not want to take away from the team’s push toward a championship.
Quenneville “was in a position to do something and he should have done what was appropriate for everybody, and not choose to stay silent for the betterment of winning a Stanley Cup,” Fiorini said.
“I understand the glory of winning the Cup and the work regarding the team. But at the same time, you’ve allowed a predator to not only infiltrate your team, but you also by not doing anything, allowed them to go on and hurt others, and that’s really the most disgraceful part of all of it.”
Fiorini also said this goes beyond the NHL, and is something sports organizations have to change about their cultures.
“It’ll be interesting to see the next couple of days in terms of how things unfold specific to the organization itself and all the bad publicity around it, because ultimately we can hold these individuals accountable for sure, but it’s a systemic problem,” she said.
“It’s not just the NHL. It’s other sport groups, other organizations that have stayed silent and compliant in and culpable in situations where someone has reported abuse and they’ve done nothing.”
What happens with the hall of fame?
Quenneville was inducted into the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame (WECSHOF) in 2002 as a player, serving as the Spitfires captain for his final two seasons ending in 1978. As a defenceman, he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs that year, 21st overall.
CBC reached out to the WECSHOF on Friday to ask if the latest turn of events would impact Quenneville’s hall of fame status, but didn’t say whether or not it would.
In a written statement, the WECSHOF’s chair of the board of directors said the hall “shall seek to uphold its values while adhering to the highest ethical, professional, and athletic standards in all its actions and decisions.”
“Celebrating athletes and builders on and off the field of play while recognizing all the rights of those involved in sport, including the right to enjoy a safe and supportive sports environment, are among the core values of our organization,” said Scott Martyn.
“Safeguarding athletes at every level to ensure that they can train and compete in a protected and safe environment is a duty one must never compromise.”
Fiorini believes Quenneville’s legacy is beyond repair, and the hall of fame will have to make its own decision.
“Absolutely too little, too late. The damage has been done,” she said.