NHLer caught in betting net?

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

Rick Tocchet's alleged role in a gambling ring with East Coast mob connections has cast a pall over the National Hockey League, the Olympic hockey tournament and even Wayne Gretzky's wife.

Tocchet -- the Scarborough native and rugged ex-National Hockey Leaguer turned assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes -- is expected to leave Arizona in a couple of days and turn himself in to New Jersey authorities.

Tocchet, a state trooper and two other men were implicated yesterday in Operation Slap Shot, the bust of an illegal sports betting operation.

At present, no ties to NHLers betting on their own sport have been revealed, but the investigation is continuing.

The 41-year-old Tocchet was served with a criminal complaint to answer charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

During the investigation, police found wagers placed by several NHL players and a "movie celebrity," all of whom have been interviewed as part of the investigation.

Janet Gretzky, wife of the Team Canada boss and Phoenix coach, and between six and 12 players placed bets -- but not on hockey -- two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Asked point-blank about reports his wife was involved, Wayne Gretzky gave a little chuckle and replied: "Really? I don't know. You'd have to ask her that."

While stressing there was no issue of NHL players betting on hockey at this stage, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly used the term "poor judgment" in describing illegal wagering on any sports.

In a separate e-mail to the Toronto Sun, Daly said that there is "no policy against legal sports betting, per se, (but) absolutely a policy against betting on the results of NHL games (and) also policy against league or club personnel engaging in illegal activities."

More prominent names involved in the case could be released in the coming days.

"We have no knowledge of Maple Leafs involved at this point," said Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

Daly did not immediately suspend Tocchet, who did not join Gretzky behind the bench at home against Chicago. Tocchet said he would co-operate with police.

"It's not a hockey-related issue, it's a football thing," Tocchet told the media before the game.

"At this point, I can't comment on anything further. I feel bad for the Coyotes and stuff like that. But like I said, it's a non-hockey related issue."

Regarding Tocchet specifically, Gretzky said: "Right now everyone in the world is innocent until proven guilty. Obviously we're concerned and obviously we feel bad. The situation obviously concerns the organization at this point."

The timing couldn't have been worse for the NHL, which is about to showcase its best players at the Turin Olympics with Gretzky, Canada's hockey ambassador, at the helm.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge warned international sports officials to guard against the danger of betting in sports during yesterday's opening of the IOC's annual session.

"It's an international problem, it's not just the NHL," Rogge said. "We owe it to ourselves and our event (the Olympics) to ensure that such activities are contained within the appropriate framework."

According to New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber and State Police Col. Rick Fuentes, Operation Slap Shot began last October and uncovered the processing of more than 1,000 wagers, surpassing $1.7 million US, on professional and college sports, mostly football and basketball.

Authorities said Tocchet and trooper James J. Harney were partners in the operation, with Tocchet providing the financing. Harney works for the force out of Moorestown and faces several charges connected with taking bets while on duty.


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