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NHL-Flyers' Hart among four NHL players charged with sexual assault

By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) -Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart was among four NHL players charged by police in London, Ontario in connection with an investigation into an alleged sexual assault by members of Canada's 2018 world junior team, their lawyers said on Tuesday.

In addition to Hart, Mike McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils and Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames were also charged.

Former NHL player Alex Formenton, a forward with HC Ambri-Piotta of Switzerland's National League, was charged on Sunday.

Each of the players recently took a leave of absence from their respective teams.

The charges are related to an alleged group sexual assault of a woman in June 2018 following a Hockey Canada golf and gala event where the junior team was being honored for their gold medal win at the world junior championships.

"We act for Carter Hart and confirm he has been charged with one count of sexual assault," Hart's lawyers, Megan Savard and Riaz Sayani, said in a statement.

"He is innocent and will provide a full response to this false allegation in the proper forum, a court of law. Until then, we have no comment."

The 25-year-old Hart, who the Flyers selected with the 48th overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, is in the final year of a three-year contract worth $11.9 million and has a 12-9-3 record this season.

The Flyers said in an email to Reuters they will "respond appropriately to this very serious matter" when the outcomes of the investigations are made public.

Lawyers for McLeod, Dube and Foote also said their clients will plead not guilty.

Hockey Canada did not immediately respond when asked for comment in an email.

McLeod, who was selected by the Devils with the 12th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has 10 goals and nine assists in 45 games this season.

"Mr. McLeod denies any criminal wrongdoing," David Humphrey and Seth Weinstein of Toronto-based law firm Greenspan Humphrey Weinstein said in a statement. "He will be pleading not guilty and will vigorously defend the case.

"None of the evidence has been presented, let alone tested in court. We ask that the public respect Mr McLeod's privacy, and his family's privacy."

The Devils said in an email to Reuters that they were told to refer inquiries to the NHL, who did not immediately reply when asked by Reuters for comment.

Dube was selected by Calgary 56th overall in 2016.

"The London Police Service have charged Mr. Dube with sexual assault," Dube's lawyers, Louis Strezos and Kaleigh Davidson, said in a statement. "He will plead not guilty and maintains his innocence. He will defend the allegations in court."

The Flames said in a statement they had no knowledge of the pending charges when, on Jan. 21, they granted Dube's request for a leave of absence to attend to his mental health.

"We take this matter very seriously. Because the matter is now pending legal proceedings, we will have no further comment at this time, the Flames said.

'FAIR TRIAL'

Defenseman Foote, whose father Adam Foote won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001, signed as a free agent with New Jersey last August.

"Cal is innocent of the charge and will defend himself against this allegation to clear his name," Cal Foote's lawyer, Julianna Greenspan, said in a statement.

"What is most critical at this time is the presumption of innocence, and the right to a fair trial that everyone in Canada is entitled to."

The London Police Service have called a news conference for Monday when they are expected to release more details.

Hockey Canada, the sport's national governing body, came under fire when news broke in May 2022 of the alleged assault and subsequent out-of-court settlement that was paid for from player registration fees.

The scandal prompted the Canadian federal government to freeze Hockey Canada's funding for 10 months while a number of major companies either paused or canceled their sponsorships with the national governing body.

Amid the scandal, Hockey Canada said it would no longer use the fund financed by player registration fees to settle sexual assault claims while the organization's CEO and board of directors stepped down.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis, Chris Reese and Peter Rutherford)