BUFFALO — The Calgary Flames are in a state of limbo with accusations of racism swirling around head coach Bill Peters.
Speaking the day after former NHLer Akim Aliu claimed on Twitter that Peters directed racial epithets his way a decade ago while both were members of the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, Calgary GM Brad Treliving said no call has yet been made on Peters’ future with the team. At the moment, Treliving — who has spoken to Aliu in the aftermath of the accusations — is continuing to gather information before deciding the next step.
“The purpose of me coming in here today is we have not completed that [process],” Treliving told reporters early on Tuesday afternoon in Buffalo, where his team will play Wednesday night. “We’re trying to be as transparent as possible and update you.”
As the Flames continue to sort out their next steps, Peters wasn’t in the practice facility or available for comment on Tuesday. Associate coach Geoff Ward ran practice and Treliving addressed the players before they hit the ice. In addition to Ward, a handful of players spoke to the media after practice, including captain Mark Giordano.
“It’s just a really tough situation,” Giordano said. “The world we live in today, you have to be accountable. We all know there’s no place for any of that sort of stuff in society. Also, you have to respect that the allegations are just that right now and you have to go through the process. We had a meeting with [Treliving] about it and we’ll go from there as players.”
Oliver Kylington, a Swedish defenceman and visible minority, was asked if he’s ever been the victim of racially driven treatment during his time with the Flames or if he’s witnessed it happening to anyone within the organization.
“Never,” he said. “I’ve been treated fairly; I’ve been treated respectfully.”
Aliu, who was born in Nigeria and played seven career games with the Flames well before Peters worked for the franchise, wrote in his tweet on Monday night that Peters, “Dropped the N bomb several times towards me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music.”
Kylington was asked how he feels knowing his coach is alleged to have made these comments. While acknowledging details have yet to be confirmed, the 22-year-old condemned the idea of any person using that language.
“I think that word, in general, is nothing you would say,” he said. “You would never use that word to anyone, especially to a person with [Aliu’s] background. For me, that word is just something you should not say.”
Kylington added that he respects Aliu for taking actions the latter believed were necessary. “If he felt those words [were] said, I really respect that he’s speaking out. I think everyone should stand up for themselves. Words like that should never, ever be said — if they’ve been said [in this case].”
The Flames, who’ve struggled through a stretch that’s seen them win just one game in their past eight outings, had a high-tempo practice. Every player who spoke indicated they would do their best to handle the business at hand of winning games. That said, with such a severe statement being levelled at Peters, the talk around this team has become about something much bigger than sports.
“Obviously some serious accusations that are unacceptable not only in hockey, but in the world,” said left winger Milan Lucic. “The team is doing an investigation and as a player, you stand for what’s right, but also you need to focus on playing hockey. I think the Flames and the whole hockey world are going to do a thorough investigation of what [Aliu] said in his tweet.”
Asked if he believed it was a good thing Aliu felt comfortable coming forward, Lucic added it’s indicative of the direction society is moving.
“I don’t think that’s just hockey, I think that’s the whole world in general,” he said of people giving voice to difficult experiences. “Just talking about mental health and physical abuse [and things of that nature]; people are definitely speaking out more and social media has created an outlet for people to have their voice heard.”