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January 24, 2024

Flyers GM Danny Brière on Carter Hart's leave of absence: 'We don't know what's gonna happen'

Carter Hart's sudden leave of absence was followed by a report that five players from the 2018 Canadian World Junior team were told to surrender to London, Ontario police for a re-opened investigation into an alleged sexual assault.

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Carter-Hart-Flyers-Red-Wings-12.22.23-NHL.jpg Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports

The situation surrounding Carter Hart has grown very uncertain.

Flyers goaltender Carter Hart was suddenly granted an indefinite leave of absence from the team late Tuesday afternoon, with the timing of the announcement having only grown more concerning by Wednesday morning. 

In the wake of The Globe and Mail's report that five players from the 2018 Canadian World Junior team – of which Hart was a member of – were told to surrender to London, Ontario police to face charges relating to a June 2018 sexual assault, Flyers general manager Danny Brière opened up his already planned media availability with a prepared statement to address the dots many have started connecting. 

"We are aware of this morning's press reports of a very serious matter," Brière said from the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees. "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. 

"In the meantime, members of the organization, including Flyers players, will not be commenting any further."

When the floor opened up for questions, Brière couldn't say much otherwise. 

The Flyers' GM said he hasn't been in touch with Hart or his camp since the 25-year-old stepped away. He couldn't say if the reasons, which the organization cited as "personal" in their initial statement, were affecting his play, nor if the current situation would affect team morale. 

On how the organization intends to proceed forward depending on where the London police's investigation goes, Brière said: "I cannot comment on that at this time. We will be waiting for guidance from the league on that."

On if the organization is operating under the assumption that Hart will be unavailable for a while: "I really don't know," Brière continued.

"At this time, we're going with Sam Ersson [in goal]. We know for this week Sam Ersson and Cal Petersen will be our two goalies."

"We don't know what's gonna happen with Carter," Brière said at another point. 

Investigations by the NHLa third party hired by Hockey Canada, and a reopened one by the London police into an alleged sexual assault involving members of the 2018 Canadian World Junior team have been lingering over the hockey world for the past two years after a woman filed a lawsuit in April 2022 against the Canadian Hockey League, Hockey Canada, and eight unnamed CHL players she alleged she was assaulted by during a two-day Hockey Canada-run event in London that was held in June 2018. 

Progress on those investigations, however, was slow and went without updates for months. 

At the outset of them, various players who were on the 2018 Canadian Junior team issued statements – either through themselves, their agents, or their legal representation – verifying either that they weren't in London for the event when the alleged assault occurred, were at the event but weren't involved and had no knowledge of it, or were at the event but denied engagement in "any wrongdoing."

Hart fell into that third category, but inevitably had to face questions about the ongoing investigations from the media when the Flyers reported for training camp in September of 2022 and 2023. Both times he had no comment other than he was cooperating with the NHL's investigation. 

Hart started 25 games for the Flyers this season, recording a 12-9-3 record, a .906 save percentage, and a 2.80 goals-against average, before taking his leave. He missed just shy of a couple of weeks in December due to issues stemming from a lingering illness, but when he came back, Ersson was playing well and noticeably began taking a greater share of the starts – working up to a 50-50 split as of Tuesday night's game against Tampa Bay. 

Hart, meanwhile, seemed off. In his last start on Saturday against Colorado, a 7-4 loss, he surrendered five goals on 15 shots and was pulled by head coach John Tortorella for the third period in favor of Ersson, despite the team facing a back-to-back. 

On Tuesday, Hart wasn't present in Voorhees for the team's morning skate, and later that day had his leave of absence announced by the organization. 

A couple of days earlier, the Calgary Flames announced that forward Dillon Dubé was taking an indefinite leave of absence to attend to his mental health

Then on Wednesday, after the Globe and Mail's report was released, word came in that Alex Formenton, an Ottawa Senators reserve playing in Switzerland, was granted an indefinite leave of absence from his Swiss club to return to Canada. 

Soon after, the New Jersey Devils announced that forward Michael McLeod and defenseman Cal Foote had also been given indefinite leaves.

All four were members of the 2018 Canadian World Junior team alongside Hart, which makes five. 

With the Hockey Canada investigation back in the spotlight again after so many months, the London police released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

"We understand that there is significant public interest in relation to a sexual assault investigation dating back to 2018. While we are unable to provide an update at this time, we anticipate that the London Police Service will hold a press conference on Monday, February 5, 2024 to share further details. 

"Location and timing of the press conference will be shared once details are confirmed."

This is a developing story.

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