As summer prepares to clear out for fall, there’s almost nothing but blue skies ahead for the Ottawa Senators.
And day one of their 2022-23 training camp should have been a day for Senators’ GM Pierre Dorion to bask in the sunshine of a very bright future.
But there has been one dark cloud, lingering all summer. Maybe it fades away. Maybe it’s a storm.
As Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith officially addressed the media for the first time this season, the GM knew he’d face questions about two of his players, Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson. Like the rest of their Senator teammates, Formenton and Batherson are anxious to get back to work, excited about the new season ahead. But both were also members of that scandal-plagued, 2018 World Junior Canadian team that’s still connected to an awful story that’s yet to fully be told.
To reset what we know about the story, Formenton and Batherson gathered with their World Junior teammates in London, Ontario for a June 2018 Hockey Canada gala and golf tourney to celebrate their gold medal win six months earlier.
A day after the gala, Hockey Canada was informed of an alleged sexual assault the night before. A man told Hockey Canada his step-daughter alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight unnamed hockey players, a group she said included players from world junior team.
Hockey Canada informed London Police and both groups immediately opened investigations. After eight months, police closed their investigation. After over two years, Hockey Canada closed theirs.
Fast forward to April of 2022, almost four years after the gala and the alleged sexual assault, the woman launched a lawsuit for $3.5 million. A month later, Hockey Canada settled the lawsuit with the woman for an undisclosed amount out of court.
A lawsuit settlement isn’t an admission of guilt. People do settle out of court for reasons that have nothing at all to do with their guilt or innocence. But in the public eye, it’s almost always a completely different view.
While several players on the 2018 team have come forward with statements this summer, Formenton and Batherson have not. As with a lawsuit settlement, the decision to not make a statement is not an admission of anything. But it does lead to speculation.
And naturally, Dorion knew questions about the situation were coming on Wednesday.
“Obviously, I understand your questions,” Dorion said. “I think we all want to have answers, but because of the NHL pending investigation, we can’t comment on it,” he said.
Over the past couple of weeks, it’s been business as usual for Batherson. Batherson is under contract, skating in camp, went to a recent REDBLACKS game with Brady Tkachuk and was even part of a fun Senator golf day video on the team’s social media this week, where he and Tim Stutzle teamed up in competition with Josh Norris and Thomas Chabot. Batherson would only say he’s co-operating with Hockey Canada but offered no further comment when asked about the case today.
“I’ve been co-operating with the ongoing investigations. Out of respect for the person involved, I’m not going to be making a comment on it now or in the future.”
Meanwhile, Formenton is a restricted free agent and doesn’t have a contract so he’s not at camp. Dorion says the ongoing investigation has had no bearing on any of the team’s contract negotiations or roster decisions. He compared Formenton’s contract talks to Tkachuk’s, which also dragged into training camp last season. It should be noted that Tkachuk’s deal was much longer, more expensive and more important than Formenton’s will be.
“We’ve talked multiple scenarios,” Dorion said. “(The talks) are in the same company as Brady. So, really no update. Just, we’re still talking.”
Dorion was asked if the club has had communication with the team’s players about the allegations and the general culture of hockey.
“I think one thing we’ve done every year at camp, we always talk to our players about bullying and misconduct,” Dorion said. “If you feel or see anything, it’s very important that you report it to us. We’re in 2022 now. I think the world has changed from maybe where it was 20 years ago, five years ago. So we’re always very sensitive to inform our players to always behave in the right way, our staff behave in the right way. So that’s something we’ve been doing for multiple years.”
Dorion knows that people want clarity on what’s happening with the investigation and Hockey Canada’s handling of the situation.
“I am a father who has a kid that has paid Hockey Canada fees and I think we all want to have answers,” Dorion said. “But at the same time, I’m also a GM of an NHL team. We’ve been given the directive that until the NHL investigation is over, not to comment.