Akim Aliu said he was feeling “super-positive” about developments within the NHL offices following his disclosure of a racist incident in the minor leagues that led to the resignation of Bill Peters from his position as coach of the Calgary Flames.
Aliu met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy Bill Daly last week in Toronto to discuss Peters’s use of a racist epithet when he coached the second-round draft pick with the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford in the 2009-10 season. Bettman subsequently issued a statement that pronounced Peters’s “conduct … unacceptable, whether it happened 10 years ago or last week.” At the Board of Governors meeting, the commissioner said the league was creating “a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion.”
Aliu spoke to the media before he skated with and spoke to a group of boys and girls, all visible minorities in the Hockey 4 Youth program at Angela James Arena in Flemington Park in North York, Ont.
“It’s unfortunate that it took this long to shed light on [racism in hockey],” Aliu said. “The last couple of weeks, things have been looked at very quickly. Hockey is a beautiful game. We should make it as inclusive as possible.”
When Aliu’s former teammates in Rockford came forward to not only vouch for his account of the incident but also detail how they had confronted Peters about their disapproval, it set off a chain of events that overshadowed games in the news cycle.
Shortly thereafter, former Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Michal Jordan revealed how a few seasons ago, Peters had kicked him on the bench during a game. It was reported to ex-general manager Ron Francis. Then-majority owner Peter Karmanos said he would have fired Peters if he had known but Francis, now the GM of the incoming expansion franchise in Seattle, maintains that he had made Karmanos aware of Peters’s physically violent transgressions.
“The [abuse from] coaches and the racial stuff are two different things but we have to deal with both of them,” Aliu said.
Aliu’s revelations about Peters and a blackface incident with a minor-league team in Colorado have been the catalyst for more players of colour speaking out and reaching out to him. Aliu says he has spoken to players from all levels of the game.
“I had a good call with [the Detroit Red Wings’] Trevor Daley probably an hour ago,” Aliu said. “We had a good talk about his situation with [John] Vanbiesbrouck.”
A former Vezina Trophy winner and first team all-star, Vanbiesbrouck had been the GM and coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL in 2003 when he directed a racial slur at Daley, who was the team captain. Vanbiesbrouck resigned from his positions and has not coached or managed since.
Aliu said young people in minor hockey have contacted him to tell him their stories, too.
“Last night I had a good call with a kid named Logan from Nova Scotia,” Aliu said before going on the ice with Hockey 4 Youth. “He’s dealt with some issues. We’re all facing different kinds of issues. I just want to be a role model [showing] these kids they can be who they want to be.”