New evidence about an alleged 2018 sexual assault prompted the reopening of an investigation involving four current and one former NHL players, Ontario police said Monday. The athletes were arrested and charged last week.
Officials have not disclosed additional details about the new evidence.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ Carter Hart, New Jersey Devils’ Cal Foote and Michael McLeod, and Dillon Dubé of the Calgary Flames, all 25, and ex-NHL player Alex Formenton, 24, made their first court appearances over video call Monday morning, according to the Ontario court docket.
Hart, Foote, Dubé and Formenton each face one count of sexual assault. McLeod faces two counts, sexual assault and “a party to the offense,” which refers to aiding or abetting others in carrying out an unlawful action.
All five have denied the allegations through their lawyers.
The athletes are accused of sexually assaulting a woman in June 2018 in a London, Ontario hotel room, Detective Sergeant Katherine Dann said. At the time, all five were members of Canada’s world junior ice hockey team and celebrating their gold medal win at a Hockey Canada event.
“Our service received a phone call from an individual related to the victim in this matter, seeking advice regarding a sexual assault,” Dann said Monday. “As a result of the information disclosed the following day, the report was assigned to the sexual assault and child abuse section.”
An initial investigation into the alleged assault was conducted from June 2018 to February 2019 and was closed without charges after officials determined there were insufficient grounds for charges.
In July 2022, the case was reopened after police said they discovered that additional steps could have been taken and began following new leads and speaking to additional witnesses.
“I can confirm that some of this evidence was not available when the investigation concluded in 2019,” Dann said
Dann said she could not specify what the new evidence is because the case is ongoing.
The five defendants, who have denied the allegations, were summoned to surrender last week when the charges were filed, according to documents filed in an Ontario court.
A civil suit was filed in 2022 regarding the same 2018 incident. It accused eight players from the 2018 world juniors team of sexually abusing and assaulting a 20-year-old Ontario native referred to as E.M., according to Ontario Superior Court of Justice records.
The plaintiff dropped the suit after reaching a settlement with the defendants in May 2022, according to her former lawyer. She initially sought $3.55 million in damages. Details of the settlement have not been disclosed.
“It takes an incredible amount of courage for any survivor of sexual assault to report to the police and participate in the criminal justice system. That is certainly true for E.M. Yet she remains committed to see this process through,” the woman’s legal representative Karen Bellehumeur said in a statement provided to police.
Each of the players in the 2022 suit were identified as “John Doe” in court records, and police did not specify whether the NHL players charged last month were the same ones named in the civil suit.
Lawyers representing the five charged athletes said their clients were not guilty and looked forward to clearing their names in court.
Formenton, 24, who played for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators in 2017, took an indefinite leave of absence from the Swiss hockey club Ambrì-Piotta on Jan. 24.
Hart, Foote, McLeod and Dubé also took indefinite leaves of absence amid reporting about the investigation. In a team statement, the Calgary Flames said they were not aware of pending charges against Dubé before granting his leave of absence.
The NHL announced the charges in a news release on Monday, adding that it conducted its own 12-month investigation into the alleged sexual assault.
“We had concluded the investigatory portion of our process to the extent we could, and we were working with the NHL Players’ Association to analyze the information we had, create a process to move forward and then determine what was an appropriate response when the news of the impending charges broke last week,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman said he does not expect the four NHL players to return for the season, but would not comment on whether the NHL investigation yielded a conclusion into wrongdoing on behalf of the players.
Hockey Canada said it also cooperated with the London Police Service throughout its investigation.
The organization held a hearing to determine whether the five defendants breached Hockey Canada’s code of conduct in November last year, and if so, what sanctions they should receive.
IMeanwhile, the players are suspended from playing, coaching, officiating or volunteering with Hockey Canada.
“In the past we have been too slow to act and that in order to deliver the meaningful change that Canadians expect of us, we must work diligently and urgently to ensure that we are putting in place the necessary measures to regain their trust,” said Katherine Henderson, president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada in a news release Monday.