DENVER - Former Colorado Avalanche assistant coach Rick Tocchet is facing charges for his alleged involvement with a nationwide gambling ring that took bets from past and present professional athletes, the New Jersey State Police said Tuesday. Tocchet, an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes, was with the Avalanche during the latter part of the 2002-03 season and all of the 2003-04 season. He allegedly financed the New Jersey-based ring and is facing charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy. TSN of Canada confirmed with police sources that approximately 12 NHL players, management people and Wayne Gretzky’s wife are under investigation for betting with the ring. Gretzky, whose wife is actress Janet Jones, is in his first season as the Coyotes’ coach and is a part-owner of the club. According to a release by the New Jersey State Police, the gambling ring “processed more than 1,000 wagers exceeding $1.7 million on professional and college sporting events” in a 40-day period. In addition, the release said the investigation into the ring, dubbed “Operation Slap Shot,” resulted in the arrest of two others, including veteran New Jersey State Trooper James J. Harney. It also “revealed alleged ties to the Bruno-Scarfo crime family of La Cosa Nostra, operating in Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.” Tocchet, who played 18 years in the NHL and was a four-time All-Star, did not attend the Coyotes’ game with the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night at the request of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. The Coyotes released a statement that said Tocchet “was flying back East this evening to address the allegations in a meeting with Bettman.” After the Coyotes’ morning practice Tuesday, Tocchet told the Associated Press he was cooperating with the investigation. “It’s not a hockey-related issue, it’s a football thing,” Tocchet said. Jean Martineau, Colorado’s senior vice president, communications and team services, said the team did not plan to ask its players if they gambled through Tocchet. “There is an on-going investigation, and we’ll wait until its over to comment,” Martineau said. Avalanche players who would comment on the investigation reacted with shock. “Obviously, he’s a coach and he doesn’t hang around the players that much, but I just wasn’t aware of (involvement in gambling) at all,” Alex Tanguay said. “It caught all of us, I think, by surprise.” “It came out of the blue,” Milan Hejduk said. “Tocchet’s a great guy.” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement that read, in part: “We understand that Mr. Tocchet’s conduct in no way involved betting on hockey. And, while betting on football or other sports may be the pervasive issue, it in no way justifies poor judgment or otherwise alleged inappropriate conduct.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.