As the Chicago Blackhawks sex abuse scandal sent tremors through the NHL and provoked a wave of high-level resignations, the man at its centre was holed up in his remote hometown.
Brad Aldrich first retreated to Hancock, amid the pine and birch forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in 2010. The Hawks had allowed him to quietly resign from his job as video coach months after player Kyle Beach accused him of sexual assault.
Mr. Aldrich is in Hancock now, living in a waterfront home, running a specialty glass factory that employs ex-convicts and university interns, and acting as a landlord for two properties.
When Mr. Aldrich first returned, Mr. Beach’s allegations weren’t public, and the ex-coach enjoyed the status of a local boy done good. The team even gave him his day with the Stanley Cup, which he used to parade the trophy around town. He started volunteering with the Gremlins, the high school hockey team in nearby Houghton.
Corey Markham, the Gremlins’ head coach, recalled Mr. Aldrich “had a way of talking to people, making them feel comfortable” and was “friendly with the kids.” When people asked why he’d left the NHL, Mr. Aldrich offered a stock excuse.
“I remember asking, ‘Why would you come back after winning a Stanley Cup?’ And he claimed that the travel was too tough,” Mr. Markham said in the lobby of Dee Stadium, a 119-year-old arena on Houghton’s waterfront. At the turn of the 20th century, it was the home of the Portage Lakes Hockey Club, which laid claim to being the world’s first all-professional hockey team.
The sport still permeates Houghton and Hancock, red-brick logging towns with a combined population of about 13,000. Mr. Aldrich’s own family is immersed in the game. His father, Mike, is the equipment manager for the San Jose Sharks. One of his uncles was Mr. Markham’s assistant coach.
After his 2010 return, Mr. Aldrich left the following year to work for the hockey program at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. In 2012, he took a job as director of hockey operations at Miami University in Ohio. Two men, one a Miami student and another an intern at a hockey camp Mr. Aldrich was running, accused him of sexual assault. By November of that year, Mr. Aldrich had resigned and returned, again, to Hancock.
In 2013, Mr. Aldrich was arrested for molesting a 16-year-old Gremlins player. Convicted of criminal sexual conduct, he was sentenced to nine months in prison. Police reports in Michigan say that officers investigated Mr. Aldrich for allegedly molesting three other minors and two adult men. There were no charges laid in those cases.
Mr. Markham remembers his shock at learning what Mr. Aldrich had done during his time with the high school team. It was a feeling much of the town relived last month after the Hawks released a report on Mr. Beach’s accusations.
“I was super, super upset in 2013 when I found out this happened,” Mr. Markham said. “All of this coming out now dredges up a lot of those feelings again. Everyone’s in shock. No one knew what happened in Chicago.”
In the days after the release of the Hawks report, Mr. Aldrich’s home in Hancock was quiet. The tidy, grey two-storey house with a deck backing onto the Keweenaw Waterway is owned by Mr. Aldrich’s parents and listed on Michigan’s sex offender registry as his home address. A green car with a broken bumper sat in the driveway, and there was no answer at the door.
Most of Mr. Aldrich’s neighbours said they did not want to talk about him and would not give their names. Several said they had deliberately chosen not to know anything about what Mr. Aldrich had done.
Patrick Brogan, a 36-year-old farmer, used to work at a sports bar called the Upper Deck. He remembered Mr. Aldrich coming in regularly years ago, including once with the Stanley Cup. But Mr. Brogan said Mr. Aldrich largely stopped going out after he was released from prison.
“He really dropped off the radar,” Mr. Brogan said. “He stopped being around as a person.”
Phyllis Wittla, 76, said Mr. Aldrich should not have been able to get jobs where he was in positions of authority over young players.
“I’m really disgusted,” said Ms. Wittla, a retired hairdresser. “It’s the same as the Catholic Church and what they did with the priests, pushing them on from place to place.”
Down the street is a house owned by Mr. Aldrich. Unlike the one registered as his home, this small, brown bungalow is run down. Piles of boxes and milk crates were visible through the front window. A man who answered the door said he had never heard of Mr. Aldrich.
At another Aldrich-owned house a few blocks away, some of his memorabilia, including a pennant from USA Hockey with his name on it, was visible through a window. One man living there confirmed, before closing the door, that Mr. Aldrich is his landlord and is around sometimes.
Across the street at the Monte Carlo bar, virtually every patron said they knew Mr. Aldrich, who used to be a regular there.
One woman, who said she’d gone to high school with Mr. Aldrich’s father, remembered Mr. Aldrich refusing to admit for months that he had left Miami. Instead, when she saw him at the bar and asked what he was doing back in Hancock, he would say Miami was playing nearby and he had just dropped in. But, days later, she would run into him at the bar again.
Another patron said everyone should stop talking about Mr. Aldrich because it was making the town look bad. He said if Mr. Aldrich walked into the Monte today, he would get beaten up.
Mr. Aldrich didn’t appear to be present at his business on a recent Monday morning. The company, OcuGlass, lists Mr. Aldrich as its CEO and occupies a pair of vinyl-sided buildings in an industrial park just outside town. Only one person seemed to be working on the factory floor. He said Mr. Aldrich wasn’t around and it was unclear when he would be.
OcuGlass’s website says Mr. Aldrich has worked there since 2017. It also touts the company’s internship program. A post written by Mr. Aldrich in 2019 says the company had hired 19 interns from seven universities and colleges.
Matthew Eliason, Mr. Aldrich’s lawyer, said Mr. Aldrich doesn’t own OcuGlass, which is a subsidiary of Iowa Illinois Warehouse Services. He said Mr. Aldrich often hires people who have been incarcerated, to give them a leg up after leaving prison. Over the years, the company has employed about 50 people, he said.
“Brad has – notwithstanding his criminal charge – he’s been an outstanding citizen,” Mr. Eliason said in his office overlooking Hancock’s main street. “He’s tried to make a business go here.”
Mr. Eliason said Mr. Aldrich denies sexually assaulting Mr. Beach, and that the ex-coach would not be speaking with reporters.
As for Mr. Markham, he hasn’t spoken with Mr. Aldrich since his arrest, and avoids him when he sees him around town. He said Mr. Aldrich still has the support of family members, and when Mr. Markham spends time with Mr. Aldrich’s uncle they don’t discuss the matter.
Mr. Markham wishes now that he had known about the Blackhawks situation years ago.
“If Chicago had come out and said why he’s not working there, he would not have been working at Miami. My player here would not have been assaulted,” Mr. Markham said. “That’s the biggest travesty.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect first name for Mike Aldrich.