The past is rushing in on Joel Quenneville, and it is taking dead aim. It is coming hard enough that it looks like it might end his time with the Florida Panthers and his storied career in the National Hockey League.
And that it should.
This controversy could lead to Quenneville — second in all-time NHL coaching victories — being fired by the Panthers, or allowed to resign. It could lead to an NHL suspension, or banishment.
And it should, if it is true Quenneville took no action when a former player of his alleged sexual assault by a member of his coaching staff.
It is the biggest scandal involving a sitting head coach of a South Florida professional sports team.
What engulfs Quenneville, 63, happened 11 years ago in Chicago and had nothing to do, then, with the Florida Panthers. Oh, but it does now. Because Quenneville is the Panthers coach now, in his third season here.
And the long-secret mess he is implicated in is interrupting Florida’s dream season with a bombshell nightmare.
The Panthers are 7-0-0 — best record in hockey, best start in the Cats’ 28-year franchise history — entering Friday night’s game in Detroit. The goals differential is 31 to 13. Hopes for the club’s first Stanley Cup are rising, and real.
Except nobody is talking right now about how good the Panthers are, or what a fun story they are.
Because the head coach, Quenneville, is in the crosshairs for what happened in 2010 to “John Doe,” who has come forward as Kyle Beach. He is a former Chicago Blackhawks minor-leaguer, then 20, who says he was sexually assaulted by the team’s video coach Brad Aldrich 11 years ago. Beach is now suing over the mishandling of his allegations or, rather, the ignoring of them.
The Blackhawks commissioned an investigation by the law firm Jenner & Block, which found “nothing was done” about the allegations by Chicago’s management or coaching staff.
The report, out this week, led to the NHL fining the Blackhawks $2 million and to Chicago president and general manager Stan Bowman and one other executive resigning.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met with Quenneville and Florida general manager Bill Zito for two hours Thursday afternoon in New York, with no announcement coming from the meeting .
The allegations came as the Blackhawks were in the postseason headed to winning the 2010 Stanley Cup. Quenneville is cast as the coach who did not want to disrupt the team’s momentum with controversy, and so was a part of the coverup.
The investigation, made public Tuesday, revealed the man players call “Coach Q” was aware of the allegations and was in on at least one meeting about it during the 2010 playoffs.
“There’s absolutely no way that he [Quenneville] can deny knowing it,” Beach said Wednesday in an interview on Canadian network TSN.
Quenneville was allowed to coach in Florida’s game Wednesday night but did not avail himself to the media afterward. The GM Zito spoke, and said: “There’s no question that the influx of information that has recently become available is deeply troubling.” Zito commended Beach for his “courage” in coming forward, calling what he endured “serious and severe.”
This is the allegation of a single person, but it has echoes of the recent gymnastics scandal that led to the life sentence imposed against Dr. Larry Nassar, the U.S. Gymnastics doctor.
This proves that one instance can be enough. That one is too many.
Panthers players have been thrust into an uncomfortable situation to say the least.
“As players, we just want to concentrate on the game,” said captain Aleksander Barkov.
Quenneville should not be on the bench when the Panthers resume their season Friday night in Detroit.
If the allegations involving him are true — that he was the head coach who failed to act on the sexual assault of a player — Joel Quenneville should never again coach a game for the Florida Panthers.