Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff regrets not doing more to stop a sexual predator who was lurking inside the Chicago Blackhawks organization more than a decade ago.

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff regrets not doing more to stop a sexual predator who was lurking inside the Chicago Blackhawks organization more than a decade ago.

"Knowing what I know today, I wish I could have been an empowered bystander," Cheveldayoff said Tuesday, during a news conference at Canada Life Centre, referring to the fact he took no action amid 2010 allegations against then-video coach Brad Aldrich.

"Certainly, what you know now is something that is heartbreaking."

It marked his first public comments since he met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday, was absolved of wrongdoing and permitted to keep his job.

Cheveldayoff insisted he had no knowledge, either direct or second hand, about the full scope of the alleged wrongs committed by Aldrich on rookie Kyle Beach and a second member of the Blackhawks during the club's Stanley Cup run in 2010. Cheveldayoff was Chicago's assistant GM in 2009-11.

"If I had known, if there was an understanding there was a sexual assault, I believe it would have been handled much differently, and certainly the Kevin Cheveldayoff that’s here today definitely would have handled it differently," the Jets GM said.

"Knowing what I know today, I wish I could have been an empowered bystander." — Kevin Cheveldayoff

Beach, who has filed a civil lawsuit against the Blackhawks which remains before the courts, came forward publicly last week to share his story following the release of a scathing independent report.

"What Kyle went through is unacceptable and intolerable... Kyle was failed by a system that should have helped him but did not," said Cheveldayoff. "I am sorry my own assumptions about that system were clearly not good enough."

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff (left) speaks to media regarding his role in the Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse report in Winnipeg Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff (left) speaks to media regarding his role in the Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse report in Winnipeg Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Cheveldayoff believed the initial allegations, which he summarized as inappropriate text messages and potential sexual harassment between Aldrich and the two Chicago players, were being handled by his superiors, which was the basis of a May 23, 2010, meeting involving him and six other club managers.

Aldrich was allowed to stay with the NHL club, even participating in Stanley Cup celebrations, before he quietly left the team in the off-season.

He later joined the Miami (Ohio) University hockey team, leaving after he sexually assaulted two men in fall 2012, a separate independent report published in September says.

Aldrich was sentenced in 2014 to nine months in U.S. prison plus five years of probation for sexually assaulting a then-16-year-old high school player in Michigan.

Of the former Chicago leaders who met that day, Cheveldayoff is the only one still employed in the NHL.

"What Kyle went through is unacceptable and intolerable... Kyle was failed by a system that should have helped him but did not. I am sorry my own assumptions about that system were clearly not good enough." — Kevin Cheveldayoff

"It was not clear to me what had fully transpired," Cheveldayoff said Tuesday. "It was not until this year that I became aware that Kyle Beach had been sexually assaulted.

"Further, I left that meeting with the understanding that the allegations would be dealt with by those above me. Three weeks later, upon learning that the individual was no longer with the organization, I further assumed that the situation had been addressed," he said.

"Having had the opportunity to reflect after reading the report and after seeing Kyle's moving interview, I am sorry that I cannot change what took place or how the process was handled back then."

Cheveldayoff said he is committed to learning from the experience. He's recently engaged in talks with former NHL player and sexual abuse survivor Sheldon Kennedy, with the idea of potentially bringing him in as a guest coach and/or lecturer for the Jets.

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff takes a moment. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff takes a moment. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

"We all must do better to ensure that we have safe spaces and proper systems in place that prioritize a person's health and well-being to make sure something like this never happens again," the GM said.

Cheveldayoff met with Jets players last week in Los Angeles and encouraged them to read the report and watch Beach's emotional TV interview.

"I said: 'I want an organization that is inclusive in all aspects, I want an organization that no matter what race you were or sexual orientation you were or what you believe, that you should feel free and safe to be a part of it and never feel excluded... I want an organization where you feel you’re safe... safe to speak up, safe to ask a question, safe to know that there’s not going to be reprisals.'"

"Having had the opportunity to reflect after reading the report and after seeing Kyle's moving interview, I am sorry that I cannot change what took place or how the process was handled back then." — Kevin Cheveldayoff

Cheveldayoff was joined at the podium Tuesday by Jets co-owner and chairman Mark Chipman, who also flew to New York with him last week to meet with Bettman.

"I’ve watched with a sense of helplessness. The pain and devastation. I need Kyle to know how very very sorry I am. And how much I admire his courage," said Chipman, outlining what he called the "logic and facts in our defence of Kevin Cheveldayoff."

"He was told by the leadership of (the Blackhawks) they would investigate it and look after it," added Chipman.

"However, if he had known, the Kevin Cheveldayoff that I know would have acted and would have done whatever it took to make sure that Kyle received incredible levels of support... and that the perpetrator wouldn't have been in any position that would have possibly allowed him to harm anyone else."

Chipman said this story will reverberate throughout the organization going forward, the way Rick Rypien's battle with mental illness and his eventual suicide has now formed a lasting legacy with True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

"I commit to you today that I will use my influence within (the NHL) to acknowledge that there are systemic problems that will require systemic solutions," Chipman said.

Winnipeg Jets executive chairman and governor Mark Chipman (right) listens as Cheveldayoff speaks to media Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg Jets executive chairman and governor Mark Chipman (right) listens as Cheveldayoff speaks to media Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

"We will partner with all of hockey stakeholders and qualified personnel to improve resources in programming to both prevent future occurrences and foster a culture where victims of sexual harassment and abuse can safely share their stories and facilitate healing for survivors."

He acknowledged the organization may take a hit in the court of public opinion by continuing to employ Cheveldayoff. It's a risk he's clearly willing to take.

"I'm mindful of how important reputation is and how important brand strength is. It's been my life's work building this organization," said Chipman.

"If I thought that for one second Kevin had ever been untruthful, had ever done anything that I found objectionable... I would never sacrifice anybody who I'm fortunate enough to work with for the sake of what people may hold as an appearance... If you're asking me my concern about the reputation of our organization, I was more concerned about the well-being of Kevin and his family."

Cheveldayoff was asked how he rationalizes the fact everyone else in that 2010 meeting is out of the NHL, but he escaped any punishment.

"I think everyone is paying prices at different levels," he said.

"I am fortunate, I guess, that I have an opportunity to be someone that still has a chance to make a change in the game, and to help grow and learn and try to make this a better and safer place so that there isn't another Kyle Beach."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: mikemcintyrewpg

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.