The NHL reportedly interviewed Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ian Cole on Wednesday over allegations that he sexually abused and groomed an underage girl.
According to ESPN's Emily Kaplan, the interview occurred at the NHL's league office in New York City and lasted for about an hour.
A Twitter user going by the name of Emily Smith tweeted a statement last week in which she said Cole groomed her for four years beginning when she was in high school:
Emily Smith @emily_smith3333
My statement on being groomed and sexually abused by Tampa Bay Lightning and NHL player Ian Cole. <a href="https://twitter.com/TBLightning?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TBLightning</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/NHL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NHL</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/tampabaylightning?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#tampabaylightning</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Canes?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Canes</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NHL?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NHL</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/IanCole?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#IanCole</a> <a href="https://t.co/IJ438bhodt">pic.twitter.com/IJ438bhodt</a>
Smith said Cole was aware of her status as a minor when he pressured her into sex. She also said he used manipulation tactics in an effort to prevent her from speaking out.
According to Kaplan, the person who posted the statement had not come forward at the time of Cole's interview with the NHL. Kaplan added that sources told her "the league is unable to identify the creator of the account without subpoenaing Twitter or obtaining a court order."
Per ESPN's Greg Wyshynski, Cole denied the allegations in a statement, saying: "I take the allegations made against me today in an anonymous tweet very seriously. I look forward to clearing my name and demonstrating to the NHL and the Tampa Bay Lightning that these allegations are unfounded."
Despite Cole's denial, the Lightning announced he was suspended indefinitely with pay, pending the results of an investigation.
Cole made his NHL debut in 2010 for the St. Louis Blues after the Blues selected him with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft.
The Ann Arbor, Michigan, native went on to play in five seasons with the Blues and four seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has also played for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild and Carolina Hurricanes during a 12-year NHL career.
Cole won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, and he has appeared in 670 career regular-season games.
The 33-year-old veteran signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Lightning during the offseason in hopes of filling the spot in the lineup vacated by Ryan McDonagh, who was traded to the Nashville Predators.
Cole was not in the lineup for Tampa's season-opening 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday. Kaplan reported the NHL Players Association is likely to file a grievance against the league if Cole remains out of the lineup "for an extended period" without evidence being found to prove the allegations against him.