Lightning suspend Ian Cole pending investigation into sexual abuse allegations

The Lightning on Sunday suspended defenseman Ian Cole pending the results of a league investigation into accusations of sexual abuse against him.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL is looking into allegations posted on social media Friday by a woman who said that Cole, a 13-year NHL veteran, had a sexual relationship with her that began when she was a minor “and he had been playing in the NHL for a few years at that point.” She said Cole groomed her over a four-year stretch.

Cole denied the allegations in a statement Sunday.

The Lightning said in a statement that they will cooperate fully with the league.

“Our organization takes these allegations very seriously. While we continue to gather more details, we have decided to suspend Ian Cole pending the results of an investigation. No members of the organization, including players, will comment further at this time,” the team said.

In a statement released by his agent, Cole denied the accusations and said he would cooperate with the league, the Lightning and their legal departments in the investigation.

“I take the allegations made against me … in an anonymous tweet very seriously,” Cole said. “I look forward to clearing my name and demonstrating to the NHL and the Tampa Bay Lightning that these allegations are unfounded. I will have no further comment until the NHL’s investigation concludes.”

The accuser, who said in her statement on Twitter that she was speaking out anonymously under the @emily_smith3333 handle, said she met Cole while she was a minor and in high school and was pressured by him to have sex, including at meetings at Cole’s team hotel.

“On a few occasions, he would ask me to bring other girls from my high school with me, which I refused to do,” she said.

The accuser said Cole manipulated her, boasting about having sex with other women. She said that once she got to college, she found out Cole had had sex with another high-school-age girl. The accuser said that one of Cole’s former NHL teammates told her how Cole bragged to his teammates about having sex with her the night they met, sharing details that only she and Cole would have known.

“Ian felt emboldened to emotionally and sexually abuse me because the NHL fosters a culture of misogyny,” the accuser said in her Twitter post. “The NHL needs to hold themselves and their players accountable for creating an enabling environment of misogynistic and predatory behavior.”

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Cole, 33, joined the Lightning in July when he signed a one-year, $2.5 million free-agent deal to help provide a veteran presence to a rebuilding defense corps following the trade of Ryan McDonagh. He figured to play a major role as a left-shot defenseman and a penalty killer. On Saturday, in the team’s final preseason game, Cole logged 20:32 of ice time.

Before signing with Tampa Bay, Cole played with six teams: the Blues, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Avalanche, Wild and Hurricanes. He was a member of the Pittsburgh team that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

Cole’s suspension with pay means that newcomer Haydn Fleury will likely join the opening-night lineup as the third left-shot defenseman behind Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev. Without Cole, the Lightning have just six defensemen on the active roster but could add left-shot defenseman Sean Day or right-shot rookie defensemen Nick Perbix or Darren Raddysh for depth.

The accusations against Cole represent the latest black eye for the sport, which is reeling from numerous sexual abuse claims.

Nearly a year ago, former Blackhawks player Kyle Beach came forward as the player who sued the franchise for mishandling his allegations that he was sexually abused by a team video coach while with the team in 2010. The case was settled out of court.

Hockey Canada, the sport’s national governing back in that country, has come under fire after it was revealed in May that the organization reached a settlement with a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight players, including members of Canada’s world junior team, in 2018. A sexual assault case involving members of the 2003 world junior team came to light in July.

The Lightning were off Sunday and were scheduled to practice this morning at Amalie Arena before traveling to New York for their season opener against the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.

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