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His father was far away on that chilly April afternoon, so 3-year-old Cullen Gove reached out to him in a video message, texted by the boy’s mother from a Central Massachusetts playground.
“I love you, Daddy,’’ Cullen said. “I miss you. I want you to feel better so you can come home.’’
But by then, his father, David Gove, a former Thayer Academy hockey prodigy who grew up skating on Cape Cod ponds, won a Stanley Cup ring, and until last year was a promising professional head coach, was beyond reach.
Gove was found shortly after Cullen’s text, lying on the floor of a Pittsburgh homeless shelter, dead of an apparent heroin overdose.
He was 38, once the epitome of a clean-living collegiate and professional hockey captain, an adoring father respected by countless people whose lives he had touched.
But only a few knew of his personal torment. According to his family and Suffolk County prosecutors, Gove never escaped the anguished memories of his treatment by an influential Boston hockey coach who recognized his talent and took him under his wing, then allegedly raped him repeatedly over several years, beginning when he was 13.
Gove died two months before he was scheduled to testify in Suffolk Superior Court against the coach, Robert G. Richardson, who faced three counts of child rape.
Now there will be no trial. Prosecutors have lost their victim and chief witness against Richardson, who 12 years ago was acquitted of raping another youth hockey prospect.
The latest charges have been dropped. But the people who loved Gove, a candidate for the 2001 Hobey Baker Award honoring the nation’s best college player, want it remembered how he came to die alone, a broke and broken man.
“Everything Dave did, everything he thought of, revolved around what happened to him’’ in the alleged rapes. It ended up crushing him, said Katie Gannon, Gove’s former longtime girlfriend and Cullen’s mother.
“Dave was the nicest person you can imagine, but he had a dark demon inside him because of all he went through,’’ said Chris Ferreira, Gove’s best friend since childhood. “He told me it got to the point where he couldn’t take the thoughts anymore.’’
Richardson, 61, a former scout for the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames who has served as an assistant hockey coach at Yale, Clarkson, Boston University, and Northeastern, lives in a Dorchester condominium where the alleged rapes occurred. In a brief conversation at his door, he declined to comment.
His lawyer, Michael Doolin, said, “Bob Richardson pled not guilty in court to these charges. He denies the allegations and the case has been dismissed.’’
The Globe does not generally identify victims of alleged sexual abuse, but Gove’s family asked that he be publicly named for the first time as Richardson’s alleged victim in order that his story be told — a chronicle of loss that fuses two dark and all too common themes: the alleged sexual abuse of children by authority figures in sports and the epidemic of opioid addiction.
Richardson helped steer numerous players to the National Hockey League, including former Bruins coach Mike Sullivan. In one of his roles as a coach and scout, Richardson operated the International Hockey Academy, which ran skills clinics and camps across Massachusetts, beginning in 1989.
When he first saw Gove play as a child, Richardson recognized his potential — and a logistical challenge. While most of the coach’s prospects lived in Greater Boston, Gove was situated on the Cape, one of three children living with a struggling single mother in the village of Centerville.
Richardson befriended the family and offered to shuttle Gove to practices and games.
At the time, Gove’s mother, Donna, was unaware of Richardson’s practice of showering naked with the young boys he coached in his academy — a practice that several of Richardson’s former players described as unique at every level of their careers, from squirts to the NHL.
“It happened all the time, and if any of the adults knew, no one stopped it,’’ said Jack Baker, a South Boston native who participated in Richardson’s programs and teamed with Gove at Thayer before playing at BU and professionally.
Donna Gove did know, however, that Richardson was widely respected in New England hockey circles. So she trusted the 38-year-old coach to help her 13-year-old son pursue his hockey dreams.
Gove soon began spending nights at Richardson’s condo in Dorchester.
“It was there — in the bedroom they shared — that [Richardson] began abusing the boy sexually,’’ prosecutors alleged in court documents before Gove’s death. “The abuse became a regular occurrence over several years between 1991 and 1994.’’
During those years, Richardson was an assistant to Northeastern coach Ben Smith. Richardson had graduated in 1979 from BU, then started his coaching career as an assistant coach at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge. He did not play collegiate hockey.
After BU, Richardson’s first stop was Yale, where for three years he and Smith were assistant coaches. He then spent a season at Clarkson before he and Smith were reunited as assistants to BU coach Jack Parker.
Smith, who in 1998 coached the US women’s hockey team to Olympic gold, said in an interview that he was surprised by the rape charges.
“In all my years around him, I’ve never seen anything that would lead me to believe Bob was anything but professional as a coach and associate,’’ Smith said. “I still consider him a friend.’’
When Richardson met Gove, his credentials included coaching in the Mass Satellite Program, an elite showcase for college-bound skaters. Gove badly wanted to reach the showcase, and, according to Gove’s confidants, Richardson allegedly used his reputation for helping to develop NHL players to exert power over the boy.
“Dave told me Bob controlled him by saying he wouldn’t get to the next level in hockey if he didn’t do what he said,’’ Ferreira said.
When Gove reached the next level, securing a scholarship to Thayer as an eighth-grader, Richardson was volunteering as a part-time assistant coach at the independent school in Braintree. Richardson was close to Thayer coach Jack Foley.
Rather than commute from the Cape, Gove lived several nights a week with Richardson, the sexual abuse allegedly continuing, according to his family and prosecutors’ filings.
Finally, in Gove’s junior year at Thayer, he sought help, confiding in his uncle, who told Donna Gove. She gave her son an ultimatum: Either he tell Foley about the alleged abuse or she would.
Gove, then 16, went alone to Foley. He stopped short of disclosing the alleged rapes, however, which would have required school officials to inform the police. Instead, according to his family, Gove, fearful that reporting Richardson’s alleged abuse could harm his own hockey career, complained only that he felt uncomfortable around him.
Foley, who testified before a grand jury in the case, said in an interview that he repeatedly pressed Gove and his mother to specify the cause of his distress, but they declined. Foley said Richardson told him the problem stemmed from a dispute over Gove’s offseason training, an explanation that struck Foley as plausible.
“Bobby was a very opinionated, powerful kind of guy about what he believed kids should be doing,’’ he said.
Thayer officials endorsed Foley’s decision to end Richardson’s role at the school. But no one could stop Richardson from attending Thayer’s off-campus games, where his presence was a source of protracted discomfort for Gove, his family and friends recalled.
Gove proved gifted enough on the ice that he received an offer to play in the prestigious Hockey East college conference for the University of Vermont. But he was so determined to distance himself from Richardson, friends said, that he instead accepted a scholarship to Western Michigan University.
Taking his secret with him, Gove thrived in Kalamazoo. As a sophomore, he began dating Kris Ibis, a collegiate figure skater who then went by her maiden name, Krejci. They often spent free time together at the rink, he shooting pucks, she practicing spins.
In the summer of 1999, they were visiting Gove’s family on the Cape when he opened up.
“We were sitting in his mom’s guest room and Dave said, ‘I have something to tell you: I was molested by one of my coaches,’ ” Ibis said. “He said he didn’t do anything about it because the coach — he called him Bob — held his hockey career over his head.’’
By his senior year, Gove was a star, logging 22 goals and 37 assists to lead the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in scoring. He was the team captain and seemed a model of personal discipline. There were no early signs of the substance abuse that would ultimately claim him.
“He was super disciplined,’’ Ibis said. “He barely drank, and you could hardly get him to take an Advil.’’
Mike Bishai, Gove’s friend and college linemate, remembered Gove as “a straight arrow’’ among an occasionally rowdy crew of collegians.
“He never did drugs,’’ Bishai said. “He was our leader, the guy enforcing our curfews. I didn’t understand until much later how much pain he was in because of what happened to him as a kid.’’
Gove went straight from Western Michigan to the professional ranks, signing with the minor league Orlando Solar Bears. Over the next nine years, he played for 11 teams, his odyssey spanning the nation, from San Antonio and Laredo to Lowell, Portland, and Providence.
Ibis followed partway. In the summer of 2003, they were living in Utah when news broke that Richardson had allegedly raped a 14-year-old boy at a hockey camp at BU in 1998, then at Richardson’s condo in 1999.
Prosecutors learned Gove had lived with Richardson and asked him to testify, but he resisted. He had an NHL dream.
“I can’t do it,’’ Ibis recalled Gove telling her. “It could ruin my career. People will look at me like I’m a troublemaker.’’
At Richardson’s 2005 trial, his accuser made for a poor witness. He had become heavily involved with narcotics and had served jail time for drug-related crimes. His credibility crumbled under cross-examination.
“I was messed up, in the midst of a full-blown addiction because of what happened to me,’’ the accuser said in a recent interview from a Texas hospital where he was being treated for an infection related to his drug use. “It changed me forever.’’
Richardson’s accuser said he understood why the jury acquitted him. He also said he was “heartbroken’’ about Gove’s death: “That could have been me 100 times over.’’
Richardson celebrated his acquittal with friends who had packed the courtroom. Dan Esdale, then vice president of Massachusetts Hockey, the umbrella organization for the sport in the state, was quoted in the Globe as saying, “We are delighted. Justice is finally served.’’
Esdale did not respond to requests to comment for this story. Nor did several other prominent hockey figures who have supported Richardson through the years.
Gove was shaken by the verdict. He regretted turning his back on someone who, he believed, had suffered as he had.
“It haunted him that he never did anything about it,’’ Ibis said.
Hockey was Gove’s salvation. When he was playing, he could suppress the disturbing memories, his family and friends said. Hockey sustained him after he and Ibis parted and through the early years of his relationship with Gannon.
“He said hockey was his therapy,’’ Gannon said. “As soon as he laced up those skates, nothing else mattered.’’
In 2005, Gove was playing for the Providence Bruins during the NHL lockout, sharing ice time with the likes of Patrice Bergeron. A year later, the Carolina Hurricanes called him up from Lowell and he made his NHL debut in Montreal, a 27-year-old rookie assisting Hurricanes star Eric Staal on a goal in an 8-2 victory over the Canadiens.
Gove returned to Lowell after the game; at 5-foot-9, he lacked the size and power to sustain a career in the bruising NHL of the early 2000s. But when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup that season, he received a ring and the joy of appearing with the Cup at Fenway Park.
Gove’s career had already peaked, although he spent nearly three more years chasing his dream until he suffered a career-ending neck injury midway through the 2008 season as captain of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. As consolation, he stayed as an assistant coach, showing early signs of promise behind the bench.
When the season ended, however, Gove declined an offer to continue coaching. He returned to the Cape, where he confronted his past and seized on a new way to soften the pain: a steady diet of the painkillers he had used for his neck injury.
He would never be the same. Gove had earned enough to buy a modest house on the Cape and finish his career with $270,000 in the bank — he even thrived for a year selling real estate — but the deeper he medicated himself, the sicker he became.
Gannon sensed his spirit slipping away.
“He was always very ambitious, very goal-oriented,’’ she said. “But all of that gradually disappeared.”
Gove found some relief in helping to coach the Barnstable High hockey team. But as his addiction grew costlier — he spent as much as $250 a day on drugs, those close to him said — he entered a financial swoon.
By 2013, Gove had borrowed more than $50,000 from friends who never imagined they were enabling a drug addict. He had defaulted on more than $50,000 in additional debt.
Creditors big and small were chasing him, and he was losing his house to foreclosure.
He even pawned his Stanley Cup ring to keep the drugs flowing.
Not until after Cullen was born in 2013 did Gove make a breakthrough. Concerned that a pedophile might one day prey on his son, Gove’s family said, he finally reported Richardson’s alleged abuse. On Sept. 2, 2014, he sat for his first videotaped interview with Boston police.
Then came a hockey break: the Wheeling Nailers, another Pittsburgh Penguins affiliate, hired him as an assistant coach for the 2015-16 season.
The Penguins knew nothing about Gove’s addiction. But they recognized his coaching potential.
By Christmas, Gove’s future seemed more luminous. He had been named head coach, succeeding former BU star Clark Donatelli, and guided the Nailers to a first-round victory in the East Coast Hockey League playoffs.
“Could not be more proud of the guys,’’ Gove tweeted.
But he could mask his addiction for only so long. Word began circulating that Gove was asking visiting team doctors for painkillers, requesting loans from colleagues, and nodding off at inappropriate times.
Team executives, reacting to “a series of red flags,’’ according to a Penguins statement to the Globe about Gove’s death, abruptly removed Gove as the coach on April 28, 2016, announcing he was taking a personal leave of absence.
Privately, the organization referred him to the highly regarded Glenbeigh treatment center in Ohio and covered the bill. When he got out of rehab that summer, Gove was clean.
But there were complications. He had a new girlfriend, a fellow patient named Katie Musick, a potentially fraught development. Romances between recovering addicts are discouraged by rehab specialists.
“It can be a recipe for disaster,’’ said Richardson’s 2005 accuser, who became a licensed chemical dependency counselor before his latest relapse.
Friends and relatives said Gove remained drug-free for a couple of months, until he was turned down for another coaching job and realized he would not be returning to hockey.
“He kept saying, ‘If I don’t have hockey, I don’t know how I’m going to do this,’” Ferreira said.
Cash-poor — Gove’s sole income was a $343 weekly unemployment check — he made a disastrous choice: He embraced a cheaper opioid, heroin.
In Boston, Richardson’s trial, initially scheduled for last Oct. 17, was postponed twice, until June 5 of this year, and Gove was further deteriorating. He was living with Musick and his beloved beagle, Bauer, at an apartment in Wheeling and at the home of Musick’s mother, Marlene, in suburban Pittsburgh.
As winter approached, Gove spent a week at the Musicks’ home. Cullen joined them — it was their last time together. Gove would soon be hospitalized with a life-threatening infection from intravenous injections. Soon after, Katie Musick, who had relapsed, was struck by a car and killed.
Gove managed to leave the hospital for Musick’s wake, shuffling into the funeral home with the aid of a walker. But two weeks later, just after he was discharged from the hospital, he totaled his own car.
His downward spiral quickening, he reached out to Ibis, his college sweetheart.
“Relapsed like months ago,’’ Gove texted her. “Feel like the strong-minded kid I used to be is so weak and fragile now.’’
Bishai and Ferreira, fearing a ruinous relapse, tried to place him in a first-rate treatment center. But Gove’s state Medicaid coverage left him and his friends far short of being able to pay for high-quality care.
The Penguins no longer had an obligation to help, and Gove did not seek their aid. But team officials knew that Gove was soon expected to testify against Richardson and sought him out as he struggled on the streets, thinking maybe they could help.
“We tried to reach Dave multiple times during the 2016-17 season but he remained out of contact,’’ the Penguins said.
In early March, Gove entered Pittsburgh’s Bethlehem Haven, an urban shelter that offers basic medical care for the homeless. In Boston, a detective working his case feared the worst. The trial was approaching, and the detective called and told Gove, “Don’t [expletive] die on me.’’
Yet he relapsed again. Ferreira sensed Gove’s fogginess during a conversation on April 1. Later that day, Ibis became suspicious when Gove asked to borrow $80 to attend a Penguins game.
“I sent him the money on one condition: he text me a picture of himself at the game,’’ she said.
The image never arrived.
The next morning, Gove texted, “Just my luck. I had a fever. I didn’t go to the game. I’ll send your money back.’’
“Keep the money as an early birthday present,’’ Ibis replied. “Something fun might come up.’’ It was their last communication.
Lying came easily to Gove when he was using and chasing drugs. On the same day he deceived Ibis, he misled Ferreira and Marlene Musick, telling them he planned to spend the day at a casino.
In fact, Pittsburgh police later told Gove’s family, they suspect he took a commuter train with a fellow addict to buy heroin.
Near dusk, Ferreira texted Gove about his purported casino outing.
“I lost 50 bucks,’’ Gove replied.
Ferreira pushed back.
“Well, how do you feel?’’
Gove, in his final contact with his best friend, said it was his last $50.
When Gove’s sister, Kristen Buttrick, spoke to him later that night, he rambled about his mother driving somewhere — she doesn’t drive — and about him being tired at the airport.
“Dave, you’re not at the airport. You’re at a homeless shelter,’’ his sister said. “You sound like you’re back on drugs.’’
Panicked, Buttrick called the shelter the next morning.
“My brother was drowning inside,’’ she said.
Buttrick said a staffer told her she was speaking with Gove and would call back, but she never did. Bethlehem Haven did not respond to Globe requests for comment.
At about 10 a.m. the next day, April 5, eight weeks before Gove was to testify against Richardson, a shelter worker visited him in his room.
“He was as high as can be,’’ the worker later told Buttrick.
The staffer reported telling Gove, “Slow down. You’re going to hurt yourself.’’
Gove seemed more concerned about disappointing his family.
“Please don’t tell my sisters,’’ he pleaded.
Four hours later, soon after Cullen’s video message arrived via text, a nurse found Gove face-down on the floor, packets of heroin nearby. He was lifeless.
The Allegheny County coroner’s office found evidence of the tranquilizer carfentanil, a synthetic opioid the Drug Enforcement Administration describes as 10,000 times more potent than morphine, in Gove’s system. Dozens of heroin users have died from doses laced with the substance, and Pittsburgh police said they are investigating Gove’s death.
On the Cape, Gove’s mother has been too distraught to hold a memorial service after losing her father, brother, and son within a year. Gove’s body was cremated and his family scattered his ashes in the sea with roses.
In Boston, Gove’s death stung the front-line prosecutors on his case, and one member of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s staff wept with Ferreira at the news.
On June 5, the day of Richardson’s scheduled trial, the prosecutors filed a notice with the court: “As a result of the death of the victim in this case, the Commonwealth is unable to sustain its burden of proof at trial. The Commonwealth is therefore exercising its discretion in terminating the prosecution.’’
Conley said in a statement that the emotional trauma Gove long suffered is common among alleged victims of childhood sexual abuse.
“It can take many survivors decades to overcome, and what made David’s case so tragic is that even a lifetime wasn’t long enough,’’ Conley said.
“He had confronted his past and prepared to confront his abuser with remarkable courage, but like so many who were hurt as children, he could still feel pain in the broken places.’’
Gove’s friends and family have raised more than $15,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to help finance Cullen’s education. Gove’s agent, Jerry Buckley, is helping to create a trust, and the Penguins have pledged to contribute at least $10,000.
But there is no solace for Cullen, whose mother has urged him to remember the fond routines he shared with his father. At the end of their frequent FaceTime conversations, Cullen blew his father kisses. As Cullen smiled, Gove caught the kisses and clutched them to his heart.
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