Off the Top of My Head

Photo credit:Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
2 years ago
So, in the aftermath of Kyle Beach stepping forward to identify himself as John Doe, one of the victims of former video coach Brad Aldrich in the Chicago Blackhawks’ sexual assault scandal, the NHL sent a memo to its teams about “inclusion, safety and respect for all” Thursday.
The three-page memo from commissioner Gary Bettman, titled Fostering A Safe and Inclusive NHL Culture, states the league’s commitment to having a culture that is “safe, inclusive and free from abuse, harassment and all forms of unethical behavior or misconduct …” It’s probably worth mentioning there is nothing in the memo directing anybody to report any of the above violations to law enforcement.
Here we are in 2021, decades after the serial sexual assaults of Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury (and three other players) by Graham James made national headlines. It’s been 11 years since Beach came forward in 2010, when he was essentially ignored by Chicago management. So, does Bettman actually believe a memo about keeping things in-house will make a difference to the look-the-other-way-and-keep-quiet culture prevalent in hockey? 
Sure, there’s been some fall-out since TSN’s Rick Westhead dragged this latest example of don’t-talk-don’t-tell to light. Florida coach Joel Quenneville, with the Blackhawks in 2010, resigned on Thursday after meeting with Bettman. Chicago GM Stan Bowman and senior director of hockey administration Al MacIsaac did the same 48 hours earlier. The NHL announced Friday Winnipeg Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, an assistant in Chicago in 2010, won’t face any discipline. The Blackhawks have been fined $2 million. Now, what’s next?


Beach’s complaint came with Chicago in the middle of a Stanley Cup push. The pathetic truth is it wasn’t a priority at the time and was put aside. Imagine that. Just as damning, the dirty little secret was kept quiet from the top down for more than a decade until the lawsuits that were filed got Westhead’s attention. Who knew what and when did they know it? And if you want to talk toxic culture, we have been told players mocked Beach. Who did that?
Edmonton Oilers’ defenceman Duncan Keith, in Chicago at the time, was asked what he knew. How is it possible not even a single player followed up on this when the Cup parade was over? Not Jonathan Toews. Not Patrick Kane. Not Keith. Did any members of the media find out about the assault when it was first reported or in subsequent years? Is it possible not a single reporter knew anything until Westhead started digging?
There’s been plenty of lip service paid over the years since we got the sordid details of the Kennedy and Fleury assaults. You know, things have to change, the game and people in it have to be better, blah, blah, blah. After writing multiple Kennedy stories and several related items in the 1990s, I was certain those high-profile cases would provide a wake-up call and that we’d be in a better place by now. How could they not? We’re not close.
The words we use today are about inclusion and respect for all, but the reality is it’s just more talk. In the days, weeks and months after Beach told the truth about being sexually assaulted, nobody with the Blackhawks did anything about it. Nobody went to the police. Aldrich got his name engraved on the Stanley Cup in 2010 — that’s a disgrace that’s in the process of being undone. Beach never did get the opportunity. 
Even now, we tend to look the other way when the truth is this ugly. That’s the sad reality. For as long as I remember, the NHL has been long on platitudes but woefully short on meaningful change when it comes to sexual assault and external accountability.  This strikes me as more of the same. If it’s going to be any different moving forward after the latest spasm of outrage wanes on social media, a memo won’t do.


For years and years, Kevin Lowe’s No. 4 Oilers jersey remained in mothballs, even though it wasn’t retired, until September of 2010 when he passed it along to Taylor Hall. Lowe’s jersey will be taken out of commission for keeps this Friday when his number is retired before a game, fittingly, against the New York Rangers.
At long last inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the class of 2020, Lowe’s jersey will join those of HHOF teammates Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr, as well as Al Hamilton’s No. 3, in the rafters.
While the Oilers called to the hall ahead of Lowe were more talented, dynamic and prolific than No. 4, none of them served the oil drop longer or sipped sweet champagne from more Stanley Cups in Edmonton silks than he did. Lowe was the first player the Oilers drafted before the 1979-80 season. He scored the first goal. He won five Cups here, another in New York.
Along the way, Lowe has been a player, assistant coach, head coach, GM, president of hockey operations and vice-chairman of the OEG in Edmonton. No matter what the role, I’ve never seen a person more competitive or passionate about the Oilers than Lowe. I’m guessing we’ll see that in full display Friday.


Oct 22, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett looks on in the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Dave Tippett, who has been using advanced stats for a long time, had some fun with the analytics crowd – and they are a fun-loving bunch – Thursday after 5-3 loss to Philadelphia the night before when he was asked about allowing so many shots on goal.
“I’ve been doing analytics way longer than a lot of these analytics people and mine are actually what happened in the game,” he said. “We use way more analytics than people know, but they’re ones that actually matter . . . the NHL stats are just, let’s just say average at best. To me, they’re not useful. We do our own stuff.
“You talk about Corski and Fenski and this and that. I see 10 shots every game that I’d classify as a turnover, not a shot on goal . . . if you are being bombarded every night with Grade A chances, now I have a concern, but I go more on scoring chances and legitimate shots, not just pucks that are flipped at the net from the other end.”


Just a shout out to former Oilers’ assistant coach Manny Viveiros, who announced this week he is battling prostate cancer. Viveiros, 55, now with the Henderson Silver Knights, the AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights, will remain with the team until mid-December and then take a leave of absence to have surgery. Word is doctors caught the cancer early with a blood test during a routine physical at training camp in September. 

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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