• Reuters, AFP-Jiji

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Fans should be "horrified" by the sex abuse scandal engulfing the Chicago Blackhawks, said National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday while defending his handling of the case.

Bettman was grilled by the media during a nearly one-hour press conference that focused on the findings of independent investigation conducted by the Blackhawks into allegations that former video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted player Kyle Beach after he was called up from the minors during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Bettman began by offering a public apology to Beach for this "horrible situation," but he was quickly left to defend the league's handling of the matter, warning there will be consequences for any team putting results above player safety.

"(The league) could not be more sorry for the trauma that Kyle has had to endure," Bettman said. "Our goal is to do what is necessary to continue to move forward.

"This has to serve as a wake up call to all clubs that you need to make sure you understand what your organization is doing because you are going to be held responsible," he added.

An explosive 107-page independent report released on Oct. 26 detailed a lack of action by Blackhawks senior management, who were made aware of the Beach allegations but did not deal with the matter while playing in the Stanley Cup finals.

In a statement issued after Beach's comments, the Blackhawks praised the former first-round draft pick for his courage and apologized for the organization's failure to respond. "No playoff game or championship is more important than protecting our players and staff from predatory behaviour," the team said.

In the report, Aldrich stated that the encounter was entirely consensual.

After winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks offered Aldrich the choice of facing an investigation or resigning, which he did.

Beach, a first-round draft pick who would never play a game for Chicago, filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks in May, 2021 and only revealed himself as the victim of alleged assault last Wednesday during an emotional interview with Canadian sport network TSN. The 31-year-old is currently signed with Black Dragons Erfurt in the Germany third division.

"We discussed the path forward with him involved in efforts to confront abuse," Bettman said of his conversation with Beach on Saturday. "We also offered to him, and his family, our resources for counseling. While the NHL hotline is principally intended for NHL personnel, we think that it's important that everyone in hockey have an outlet for health.

"There are many organizations that have expertise to deal with victims of abuse. Accordingly, we intended to use our resources to engage in a worldwide effort to create a network of those organizations to make available to the hockey community."

The revelations have resulted in shock and finger-pointing at the NHL, the NHL Players Association and Blackhawks management and players over their inaction.

"I think that people are going to feel dispirited, disappointed, horrified as to what happened," said Bettman. "But understand that we tried to be as transparent as possible, that actions that have been taken to address the things that were done wrong."

The NHL fined the Blackhawks for "the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response."

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, who had been coach of the Blackhawks at the time, both resigned their positions last week.

Still, Bettman was on the defensive throughout much of the video conference, challenged about his decision to exonerate former Blackhawks assistant and current Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Cheveldayoff, who is expected to hold a media briefing on Tuesday, was cleared of any culpability, with Bettman saying he at the time had no authority in the matter.

"Kevin's principal duties at the time dealt with the salary cap and scouting," explained Bettman. Cheveldayoff believed his boss and his boss's boss were investigating and taking care of it, Bettman said.

"He didn't know or have access to the information.

"What he did know led him to believe that it was being deal with appropriately," Bettman said.

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