Five players who were on the 2018 Canada world junior ice hockey men's team were granted indefinite leaves of absence from their current teams in the past week, amid a report of a sexual assault investigation.
Those granted leave are NHL players Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers and Dillon Dubé of the Calgary Flames. Former NHL player Alex Formenton, who now plays with Swiss club HC Ambrì-Piotta, is the fifth player.
The Flyers and HC Ambri-Piotta cited personal reasons for Hart’s and Formenton’s leave.
The Flames cited Dubé’s mental health for his leave in a post Sunday on X and could not be reached for further comment.
The Devils did not offer any additional comment following their Wednesday announcement that McLeod and Foote requested and were granted indefinite leaves of absence.
The 2018 Canada world juniors team was connected to a sexual assault investigation in 2022, in which eight players were accused of sexually abusing and assaulting a 20-year-old Ontario native, according to Ontario Superior Court of Justice records.
The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, reported Wednesday that five members of the 2018 team were told to surrender to Ontario police but that no charges have been filed yet. NBC News has not independently confirmed the report. It was not immediately clear Thursday whether the five players on leave are the ones who have been asked to surrender.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said that no sexual assault charges have been filed in the court, adding that police have until the day of the first court appearance to file.
London police said they would address "significant public interest around the 2018 investigation" at a news conference Feb. 5 and were unable to provide any update or comment at this time.
"We are aware of this morning's press reports on a very serious matter," Flyers General Manager Daniel Briere said about Hart’s absence at a midseason news conference Wednesday. "We will respond appropriately when the outcomes of the investigations are made public. The NHL has been very clear that teams should refer all investigation related questions to them."
The NHL, the players and their representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.
HC Ambrì-Piotta said Formenton was allowed to return to Canada for his indefinite leave of absence but did not offer additional comment.
2022 investigation into sexual assault
The 2022 probe focused on an alleged incident in 2018, when one of the players is said to have taken a woman, identified in court documents as E.M., now 25, to a hotel room after he met her and got intoxicated with her at a bar. Most of the players were coming from the Hockey Canada Foundation Gala and Golf fundraiser in London, Ontario, according to court records.
The woman alleged in a lawsuit that “John Doe #1” allowed seven other people into the room to perform a series of sexual activities without her consent, all while intimidating her and preventing her from leaving.
After the alleged assault, the woman said in the suit, the eight directed her to take a shower and state that she was sober in a video recording. She said they later pressured her not to cooperate with the criminal investigation once it had been initiated, according to the suit. All players accused in the incident are listed only as "John Doe."
The Canadian Hockey League and Hockey Canada were also listed as defendants in the suit.
The woman sought $3.55 million in damages. She dropped the lawsuit after she reached a settlement with the defendants in May 2022, according to Robert Talach, the lawyer who represented her in the 2022 civil litigation.
Talach said his firm is not involved in the most recent criminal allegations and is no longer retained by the client. Hockey Canada testified before a parliamentary committee that it paid the settlement; Talach could not confirm who else contributed to it.
"In this particular matter there has been limited legal adjudication. The prospect of a criminal prosecution offers a more fulsome adjudication. In that sense this development should be welcomed by anyone wishing to get to the truth," Talach said in a statement.
Messages left for the Canadian Hockey League and Hockey Canada about The Globe and Mail’s report were not immediately returned.