Retired NHL defenceman Garth Butcher was acquitted Monday of sexual assaulting a woman almost two years ago.

A Superior Court jury comprised of 10 men and two women cleared Butcher, who pleaded not guilty and even testified during the five-day trial.

Butcher testified last Thursday in a Brampton, Ont., court that he and a 23-year-old waitress who worked at his bar in nearby Mississauga, Ont, had consensual sex in a hotel room on Dec. 12, 2002.

A publication ban prohibits his accuser from being identified.

"This has been hard, but I had tremendous support from my family," said Butcher, who is married with five children. "Their love has really meant a lot."

Butcher, who lives in Bellingham, Wash., told the court that he visited the Clarkson Pump and Patio and stuck around once the establishment closed to drink and socialize with co-owner Scott Smith, manager Amy Cooper and the complainant, who waitressed that night.

Butcher said he and the complainant kept drinking after Smith and Cooper left in the early morning hours, then shared a taxi.

Upon reaching the Waterside Inn, where Butcher was staying, the complainant agreed to join him in his hotel room for a drink.

Butcher testified that they drank, talked, watched television and smoked cigarettes on the balcony until daybreak, adding she was "talkative, happy, lively" and eventually agreed to give each other massages.

"It was very late ... she's an attractive young lady," he recalled thinking.

"She's either interested in staying with me or it's time for her to go home."

Butcher then described how the complainant straddled him on the bed and massaged his back for about 10 minutes before the two switched places.

After massaging her for 10 minutes or so, he claimed the two laid side by side, kissing and fondling each other's genitals.

Testified Butcher: "She said, 'Do you really think we should be doing this?' and I said not to worry because I had a lot to lose by somebody finding out about this."

Butcher then left for the bathroom and returned to more kissing and fondling.

He testified that the two removed their pants and had sexual intercourse for about 10 minutes before she suddenly stopped.

Butcher admitted trying to urge the complainant to continue, even suggesting she perform oral sex, but when she refused, they cleaned up and got dressed.

Butcher, from Regina, was drafted 10th overall by Vancouver in 1981 and played a total of 14 NHL seasons for the Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Quebec Nordiques and Toronto Maple Leafs.

He finished with 48 goals and 158 assists for 206 points with 2,302 penalty minutes in 897 NHL games.

with files from CP Online