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MPs grill Hockey Canada chair over secretive multimillion-dollar payout to sexual assault victim

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Hockey Canada’s board chair was on the defensive Tuesday as MPs castigated the governing body over its handling of sexual assault claims and the use of a shadowy fund to pay off victims of abuse.

Asked to grade the performance of Hockey Canada’s CEO Scott Smith — who has been widely condemned for his management of the organization — board chair Andrea Skinner said he deserves an A.

“I’m a hard marker,” Skinner said. “I think that the circumstances in which Mr. Smith has been working have been really extraordinary and difficult. He conducts himself as an A.”

Skinner’s comments triggered some laughter among the assembled MPs — who, despite their partisan differences, were universally critical of Hockey Canada at Tuesday’s meeting.

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Andrea Skinner, interim chair of the Board of Directors at Hockey Canada, appears virtually as a witness at a House of Commons committee in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

NDP MP Peter Julian accused Hockey Canada of weaponizing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence victims of abuse. He also attacked the governing body over lavish board dinners that reportedly have cost in excess of $5,000, and for handing out $3,000 rings to each of the group’s nine board members whenever a national team won a championship.

Julian also pressed Skinner to tell MPs how much Hockey Canada has spent to retain Navigator, a crisis management firm, to help it deal with an onslaught of bad press. He didn’t get an answer.

Conservative MP John Nater repeatedly pushed former Hockey Canada board chair Michael Brind’Amour to state whether he had confidence in Smith as CEO.

Conservative MP Rachael Thomas asked Skinner to explain how she could claim Hockey Canada has changed while doubling down on her support for its current management team.

Skinner said Hockey Canada will make no managerial changes, defying a demand made by federal Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge. The minister said Monday mass resignations at the governing body are needed to restore public trust in an organization that has made secret payments to sexual assault victims.

“Our board does not share the view that Hockey Canada should be making more leadership changes at this time,” Skinner said.

“The board believes Hockey Canada’s CEO and executive team have the skills to lead Hockey Canada through its action plan.”

Skinner said replacing the board and Hockey Canada’s management team would threaten the viability of the sport.

“I think that would be very impactful in a negative way to all of our boys and girls who are playing hockey,” she said. “Will the lights stay on at the rink? I don’t know. We can’t predict that. To me, it’s not a risk worth taking.”

‘A lightning rod for extremists’

While leery of personnel changes, Skinner said she expects to make a decision about her own future with Hockey Canada over the next month; board elections are expected sometime this fall. She said it’s been a trying time to lead the organization.

“I didn’t expect to be involved in politics. I didn’t expect to be a lightning rod for extremists,” she said.

Skinner, a lawyer by training, said the media was trying to turn the public against Hockey Canada and its leadership team by publishing stories critical of its handling of violent sexual assault in the sport.

She said the sport’s governing body is dealing with “substantial misinformation” and “cynical attacks” from politicians and others.

Hockey Canada president and chief executive officer Scott Smith. Asked to rate Smith’s performance during the sexual assault scandal, board chair Andrea Skinner gave him an ‘A’. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Skinner said cases of sexual assault are not unique to hockey and it’s unfair to direct so much ire at the sport and Hockey Canada.

“Suggesting that toxic behaviour is somehow a specific hockey problem, or to scapegoat hockey as a centrepiece for toxic culture is, in my opinion, counterproductive to finding solutions,” she said.

“It risks overlooking the change that needs to be made more broadly to prevent and address toxic behaviour, particularly against women.”

‘A pack of hooligans’

Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner said MPs have not seen reports of violent sexual assault in other sports comparable to what has transpired in hockey. She asked why Hockey Canada allowed players to act like “a pack of hooligans” with no consequences.

“I absolutely reject we condoned this,” Skinner said in response to claims Hockey Canada turned a blind eye to assault.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather described Skinner’s efforts to blame the media and MPs for her organization’s woes as “Trump-like.”

Housefather said it’s reasonable to expect transparency from an organization that takes taxpayer funds and collects millions of dollars in registration fees each year from players and parents.

The embattled governing body has faced a torrent of criticism over its secretive use of player registration fees and other investments to compensate sexual assault complainants.

This summer, after a number of news outlets — including CBC News — broke stories about the existence of these funds, Hockey Canada revealed it had paid out $8.9 million in settlements to 21 complainants with sexual misconduct claims since 1989.

 

Anatomy of a Scandal

Hockey Canada is on the defensive over allegations that some members of its gold-medal winning World Junior team in 2018 took part in a group sexual assault, and the organization didn’t do enough to hold players accountable. The Fifth Estate examines the national shame inside Canada’s game, and the disturbing history that suggests this was not an isolated incident.

Some of that money was funnelled through the body’s National Equity Fund. Much of it went to settlements related to Graham James, the former junior hockey coach convicted of sexually assaulting young hockey players.

Skinner defended Hockey Canada’s decision to also quietly settle a lawsuit by a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by eight former CHL players after a Hockey Canada Foundation event in London, Ont., in June 2018.

Skinner said that outside legal counsel advised Hockey Canada’s board in May 2022 to settle the matter out of court.

She said the complainant chose not to go public with the names of the players alleged to have committed sexual crimes.

Skinner said the board at the time wanted to take a “respectful” and “victim-centred” approach to the issue, so it cut a cheque to avoid the sometimes traumatic process of a legal trial.

MPs alleged the payout was hush money — an attempt to silence the woman and avoid bad press for the offending players.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle bristled at Skinner’s suggestion that sexual assault is also a problem in politics because former senator Don Meredith was recently charged by police with sex crimes.

Bittle pointed out that Meredith faced consequences for his actions — he was removed from the Conservative caucus, investigated by Red Chamber’s ethics commissioner and ultimately recommended for expulsion.

“There were consequences for this politician. For the hockey players and leaders involved, there seems to have been no consequences,” Bittle said of the 2018 alleged assault and the resulting fallout.

Speaking to reporters after the committee meeting, Bittle called Skinner’s testimony “shocking.”

“There needs to be a reckoning at Hockey Canada,” he said. “The only people in the country that seem to have confidence in senior management at Hockey Canada are the few members of the board of directors.”

‘There’s no sense of responsibility’

In an unusual move, Liberal MP Hedy Fry, the committee chair, lambasted Skinner and Brind’Amour at the end of the two-hour meeting.

According to parliamentary tradition, committee chairs are expected to remain impartial during committee proceedings — to preside over the meeting without participating in the debate.

Fry couldn’t hold back, saying she was “distressed” and “disturbed” by what’s gone on at Hockey Canada.

Speaking about the alleged assault in London and another reportedly violent incident in Halifax in 2003, Fry said Hockey Canada has tried to sweep incidents “under the rug” by offering payments to victims and imposing NDAs.

“I’m quite distressed that the current leadership will be kept in place because it’s a ‘grade A team.’ There’s no sense of responsibility. Blaming everyone else does not mean there’s a sense of accountability,” she said.

Skinner said Hockey Canada “hopes that the players will be held accountable for their culpable conduct.” She pointed out that there is now an investigation underway into the London incident that resulted in a multimillion-dollar payout to the victim.

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Canadiens @ Oilers: Start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Montreal Canadiens @ Edmonton Oilers

How to watch

Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet 360 (English), TVAS (French)

The Montreal Canadiens will look to add another win on their Western-Canada-plus-Seattle road trip two nights removed from an exciting 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The game might have been a one-goal contest, but it would’ve been a lot different if goaltender Jake Allen hadn’t stood on his head, making a whopping 45 saves in the victory, his first since November 19.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistics Oilers
Canadiens Statistics Oilers
12-10-1 Record 13-11-0
45.8% (24th) Scoring-chances-for % 50,5% (17th)
2,78 (26th) Goals per game 3,42 (9th)
3,39 (22nd) Goals against per game 3,63 (7th)
15,7% (29th) PP% 27,6% (5th)
82,3% (6th) PK% 71,6% (27th)
1-1-0 H2H Record (’21-22) 1-1-0

On Thursday, it was Montreal’s first overall pick from this summer’s draft, Juraj Slafkovský, who opened the scoring on the first shot of the game at 13 seconds, when Calgary all-star goaltender Jacob Markstrom decided to leave his crease to try to play the puck, which inevitably resulted in a poor miscue by the former Vezina nominee.

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Habs standout Cole Caufield, who has been mesmerizing fans and brass alike, scored the eventual game-winner, a power-play marker six-and-a-half minutes into the third period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season. The man advantage has been a bit of a soft spot all season, finding itself 29th in the league, and also especially after going zero-for-six earlier in the week against San Jose, it was nice to see it clicking for once.

Thursday’s game was also a homecoming of sorts for Sean Monahan, a former 2013 first-round pick of the Calgary Flames. His return was met with a lot of chants and cheers, as opposed to Kirby Dach’s return to Chicago a week prior. Monahan, who currently sits fourth in team scoring with five goals and 16 points, assisted on both Montreal goals.

Tonight’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in their last game Thursday night, a 5-3 loss to Kirill ‘The Thrill’ Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild squad. The Oilers’ one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each had a goal and a helper in the contest, but it didn’t help their cause.

McDavid and Draisaitl have been two of the best players in the game in recent years, and yet again find themselves on pace for record-setting seasons, sitting number one and three in the NHL scoring race, respectively. McDavid’s 19 goals and 43 points through his first 24 games make his numbers last season (44 goals and 79 assists) look like a poor performance for the perennial all-star.

His German counterpart currently has 16 goals and 38 points, making his career-best totals of 55 goals and 110 points also seem well within reach, which makes these two some of the best teammates at the top of the leaderboard since the late-90s when the Pittsburgh Penguins had Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr taking the league down in a fury.

Both Edmonton goaltenders, Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner, have shared an equal workload with Mike Smith on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list. Campbell, who signed an off-season deal with the Oilers at five years and-$25 million, has put up seven wins, but a league-worst 4.12 goals-against-average.

Last season saw these two squads split the season series, with each road team getting a victory. Edmonton took the first contest, a 7-2 dismantling at the Bell Centre on January 29, and then Montreal exacted revenge on March 5, with a 5-2 victory at Rogers Place.

One bright spot for Habs last year was that of all nine of Edmonton’s goal-scorers versus Montreal, none wore the number 97. McDavid registered zero points across both contests. Just a little optimism that it can repeat itself Saturday in Alberta.

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NHL Buzz: Manson out week to week for Avalanche – NHL.com

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Welcome to the NHL Buzz. The 2022-23 regular season is underway, and NHL.com has you covered with all the latest news.

Colorado Avalanche

Josh Manson is out week to week for the Avalanche because of a lower-body injury.

The defenseman, who sustained the injury in a 6-4 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, has six points (two goals, four assists) in 21 games this season.

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Andreas Englund was recalled from Colorado of the American Hockey League. He has one assist in four games with the Avalanche this season.

“Englund has played good when he’s been up with us,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I really like what he did when he was up. … Just another big (6-foot-3, 189 pounds), heavy, strong guy that’s been an efficient puck mover for us on the back end.”

Carolina Hurricanes

Teuvo Teravainen could return for the Hurricanes on Saturday one day after the forward was activated off injured reserve.

Teravainen, who has missed the past 10 games with an upper-body injury, has seven assists in 14 games this season.

Carolina plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; BSW, BSSO, ESPN+, SN NOW).

Philadelphia Flyers

Cam Atkinson said he’s getting closer to making his season debut, but the forward remains day to day because of an upper-body injury.

Atkinson added he’s been fully cleared for contact and is not restricted in any way.

“It’s obviously good to be back with everyone and take a little bit of licks and see how I do,” Atkinson said. “Just day to day for me right now.

“It’s been pretty good. A little bit of an adjustment but just working out the kinks. I’m getting close, but not enough to where I think I can help this team right now. But I’m closer than not.”

Atkinson was second on the Flyers in goals (23) and points (50) last season. Entering Saturday, Philadelphia was last in the NHL in goals per game (2.38).

Atkinson said the nature of his injury has allowed him to skate and stay in shape that way but that it might take a game or two for him to get his timing with the puck back to normal.

“If I was playing and if we had a day off, even one day off, even if I played 30 games and I took a day off, I still feel like that next practice my timing is just a little bit off,” he said. “Maybe it’s more mental than not. So obviously not playing any games it’s going to take a game or two to get adjusted, but we’re on a pretty good schedule for me right now. I’ve revved it up a lot and I’m feeling good. I feel like my timing is pretty solid, but you really won’t know until you play a game.” — Adam Kimelman

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World Cup Daily: Timeless Messi is on a mission for Argentina – Sportsnet.ca

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