NHL News

Lehner: Players must ‘bring change’ after Beach

TORONTO — Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner is calling for change in the NHL and beyond as fallout continues from Kyle Beach’s sexual assault case against the Chicago Blackhawks.

“People need to be held accountable. That’s part of healing, getting justice,” Lehner said on Tuesday after the Golden Knights’ 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “That’s what we all want. Whatever that process is, I hope we do the right thing. It’s not just in hockey or all sports, it’s society in general. It’s very difficult for anyone in that position with sexual assault to come out, it’s hard to talk about, especially if you feel like people won’t believe you.

“We need to be more open, more supportive.”

Lehner is already a passionate leader on discussions of mental health awareness within the NHL. Now he’s stepped back into action, hoping to create a more inclusive hockey environment than the one that failed Beach.

Last week, Beach revealed himself as the “John Doe” in a pair of lawsuits filed against the Blackhawks in May for mishandling sexual assault allegations by Beach against former video coach Brad Aldrich back in 2010.

After Beach came forward, Lehner connected with him personally to offer words of encouragement.

“It was good. It was emotional,” Lehner said of the conversation. “I commended him a lot. He’s changing people’s lives by the bravery of speaking out. I just want to be there for him and support him through this. I think the majority of (guys) I’ve talked to are all on the same page with that.”

Lehner was part of the 80 or so players on a call Monday with NHLPA head Don Fehr about why Fehr didn’t do more to help Beach when he came forward against Aldrich.

The result of that meeting was a forthcoming vote by the NHLPA executive board on Fehr’s recommendation that an independent investigation be commenced by outside legal counsel in order to review the NHLPA’s response to Beach’s situation.

Declining to “point fingers” at anyone in particular, Lehner instead wants players themselves to get more involved in changing hockey’s culture. Even ones who, like him, might not be comfortable stepping into the spotlight.

“It’s extremely tough for me to do it, but sometimes my principles and how I feel take over,” Lehner said of speaking out. “At the end of the day, I just want more players, (with) whatever it is, to take a stand. Because we as players, we can bring change as much as anywhere else. But again, it’s difficult for me. I wish more people would step up in the fight because hopefully it’s for our kids, for my kids and a lot of players’ kids. We want them to succeed and play in this league and we want hockey and the NHL to be as good as possible.”

Lehner said the onus for making their league better can’t just fall on top players, either.

“I try to explain to people that fringe players to third liners, fourth liners, guys who go up and down, they get very different treatment in my experience,” he said. “It’s unfair to put it on the star players, (like) that they don’t speak up enough, because to be quite honest, from what I’ve seen, they don’t see a lot of things that need to change. So they get different treatment. I encourage everyone to talk to each other, have conversations. If we talk about culture or whatever, it needs to come from the players. Everyone needs to talk about it.”

Whether Lehner would choose the role or not, he’s become an important voice fighting for equality in the league. And he does feel that “hearts are in the right place to make changes” and write a better narrative for years to come.

“I’m trying to focus on winning hockey games but some things are bigger than winning,” Lehner said. “It’s hard. I just want for people to get into the conversation. It’s not about pointing fingers or trying to get people fired or whatnot. It’s about trying to have a conversation about how can we get better and I think that needs to come from players.”

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