CALGARY – Shortly after announcing the resignation of coach Bill Peters, Brad Treliving struggled to fight back tears.
At the tail end of an emotional week he later called the toughest of his career, the Flames GM got choked up after detailing the timeline of his investigation.
“The subject matter we’ve been dealing with over the last few days is difficult, hard and it does not in any way reflect the core values of the Calgary Flames,” he said, eyes watering for the only time in his 20-minute press conference.
“It’s been a difficult time, but we are going to move forward.”
Minutes later, his players did their best to signal a new beginning for the embattled club by hitting the ice with interim coach Geoff Ward, while Elton John’s Tiny Dancer elicited smiles around the Saddledome.
It was a stark contrast to the sobering news that the only possible outcome to an investigation into Akim Aliu’s allegations of racism finally came to pass: Peters is no longer with the club.
“This morning I received the letter of resignation for Bill Peters, which I accepted,” Treliving said.
“Effective immediately, Bill Peters is no longer a member of the Calgary Flames organization.”
With that he detailed just how hard a week it has been, starting with Monday night’s disturbing tweets from Aliu that kicked the investigation off.
“The word I used at the time was repulsive, but they’re allegations,” Treliving said of his initial reaction to Aliu’s allegations of racial slurs used several times in front of him by Peters 10 years earlier with AHL Rockford.
“I believe in people and you have to be fair to all people. We had to make sure it was done thoroughly and correctly.
“I’ve been criticized a lot over the last three to four days that things have not moved quickly, maybe not moved in a timely fashion. If I have not met anyone’s time agenda I apologize, but it was more important that we get all the information. This was something that needed to be handed correctly, it needed to be handled in a timely fashion but I was not going to trade carelessness for thoroughness.”
Fact is, the hockey world roundly applauded his handling of the situation from the start to Friday’s impressive handling of tough questions.
Treliving opened his remarks by announcing his coach’s resignation, which boiled down to semantics following several days of discussions with lawyers on both sides.
Clearly he would have been fired otherwise.
He then went through the minutiae of the investigation he and the league conducted into Aliu’s allegations, as well as those involving former Hurricane Michal Jordan who alleged he was kicked by Peters in Carolina.
Treliving said he spoke to Aliu twice, as well as Jordan, teammates of theirs in Rockford and Carolina respectively, management and coaches with Rockford (when the alleged incident occurred) and with the Blackhawks, who are the IceHogs’ parent club.
When asked if he spoke with Hurricanes GM Ron Francis before hiring Peters, Treliving wouldn’t get into specifics other than to say he spoke to the team.
Asked if he had previously heard of any such allegations regarding racism or physical abuse by Peters before hiring him in the summer of 2018, Treliving was pointed.
“Were we aware of any type of these allegations? Categorically no,” he said.
“We knew nothing. In terms of due diligence, we did a full scrub for any hire. I did speak to the previous employers of Bill. I don’t know if you’re going to find out everything possible about people, but you do the best job you can.”
Treliving said his three-pronged approach to Aliu’s allegation revolved around the investigation, his players and keeping the media updated.
“I want to reiterate these incidents didn’t take place here,” said Treliving, who focused on supporting, updating and dealing with his players.
“We checked to see if there were any situations in our team where people were put into situations they were not comfortable with. There were none.”
Although the fallout from the last four days will linger for a long time, Treliving said the time to move on is here.
“Our review is, for the most part, done and will obviously be turned over to the league,” said Treliving.
“We consider this matter closed. I know how we operate in terms of the culture and values and the things we hold dear to us, and that type of behavior just has no place.”
Captain Mark Giordano agreed.
“Everyone knows there’s no place for that in hockey or life,” he said.
“It’s been a tough four days for our organization. It’s something that was hard to deal with because you have relationships, but everyone handled it properly. It’s a weird situation that I don’t think many guys have been through and the one thing we do have is each other in here to get out on the ice and that’s got to be our way to get away from the off-ice stuff. Now we move on as players – that’s all we can do.”
The music, as chosen by DJ Rasmus Andersson, was used during their skate as a way to shake up an otherwise stunned group that still has plenty of work to do to turn a challenging season around. The controversial playlist included Tiny Dancer, Radio Gaga and It’s Tricky.
“We want guys to feel good about being at the rink and if we can keep it as normal as possible, over time everything takes care of itself,” said Ward, whose future behind the bench still needs to be discussed.
“It sure wasn’t me on the songs list – I mean Tiny Dancer really doesn’t rev me up for practice, no offence to Elton John. We just felt it was a way to loosen up the day. The players had a meeting with Tree (Treliving) and we didn’t want that hanging over them in practice.”
It has indeed been a season of tremendous adversity for the team, making Friday morning’s inevitable announcement a tremendous relief for many involved.
“It felt like the past couple weeks has been a lifetime, but I think it has brought us together,” said forward Matthew Tkachuk, whose team was further buoyed by the return to practice by Travis Hamonic and Austin Czarnik.
“We’ve had a lot of talks and meetings and been on the road you’re with the guys and I think it all came together that way. Looking forward to (Saturday’s) game.”
The NHL released a statement following the resignation saying it has been in regular communication with the Flames.
“Our review of this serious matter is ongoing,” the league said. “There are meetings scheduled with relevant individuals — including Akim Aliu — in the coming days.”
Treliving said many lessons can be learned from the last four days, which is all part of the continual evolution of a game that has certainly come a long way in terms of coaching norms and inclusivity.
One of his many hopes is that players will continue to feel more and more open to expressing concerns with things going on around them in the future.
The players have been offered up additional support from within the organization in that vein.
“I don’t know if you can plan for every possible scenario,” said Treliving.
“But as we talk to our people there always has to be a feeling you can come forward if you’ve got an issue or a situation you don’t feel comfortable with. We talk to our players all the time – we try to give them outlets that they can come and communicate if they have issues they are uncomfortable with.
“I think the avenues we’ve got and some of the mechanisms we have in place for people to come forward if they need to are in place, but you always have to continue to look at them.”