Akim Aliu "smelled something funny" last week when a current NHL head coach reached out to try and broker an apology between him and Bill Peters.
Aliu's suspicions proved correct on Wednesday when the Western Hockey League's Lethbridge Hurricanes announced that Peters would become their new head coach.
It's the first coaching job in North America for Peters since November 2019, when he resigned from the NHL's Calgary Flames after revelations surfaced of his anti-Black racial abuse of Aliu when they were both with the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs in 2009-10.
"My intuition and what I thought was kind of an insincere way to approach me was proven right today," said Aliu in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "It's been 13 years since the incident happened, four years since it's become public, and now when he's up for another job, and for PR motivations, he wants to get in touch with me.
"I knew from Day 1 what kind of person this guy was when I stepped into the room in Rockford. I really don't say this lightly, because I know for a lot of people there's coaches they don't get along with, but he's one of those very few that I just genuinely don't think is a very good person."
On Nov. 25, 2019, Aliu spoke out about the racial profanities Peters directed at him while playing for the IceHogs and how the coach had blackballed him in professional hockey. A day after Aliu's allegations, former Carolina Hurricanes player Michal Jordan said that Peters had kicked him and punched another unnamed player during a game.
The two accusations led to Peters leaving the Flames.
Aliu said that aside from the unnamed NHL head coach reaching out to him last week, no one from the WHL or Hurricanes organization spoke to him or Jordan during the hiring process.
"I think the WHL and the Hurricanes should have contacted myself and Michal Jordan, the victims of Bill Peters, and had a conversation," said Aliu. "I'm just mind boggled how you can take the word of a racist and abusive person and the fact that he's telling you he has changed when you haven't spoken with the folks that have been affected by it.
"That's just a huge lack of leadership on the behalf of WHL president Ron Robison and the Lethbridge Hurricanes as a whole."
A statement from the WHL said Peters has completed an anti-racism training and coaching certification program with guidance from Shades of Humanity Consulting, a national diversity, equity and inclusion agency. Robison said he's satisfied Peters has taken the necessary steps required to return to coaching in the WHL.
"After a thorough review, speaking with representatives from Shades of Humanity, and receiving a commitment from Bill to continue on his path of anti-racism, self-growth and redemption, the WHL is satisfied Bill is ready to return to coaching in the WHL,” Robison said. “The journey towards individual and systemic equity learning should be viewed as an ongoing process.
"Bill has demonstrated that through this process and the WHL remains committed to systemic change through continued education.”
Peters started coaching the Kontinental Hockey League's Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in April 2020. He was relieved of his duties by the Russian club on Nov. 30, 2021. He said in a statement issued through the WHL on Wednesday that he has grown since leaving Calgary in 2019.
"Over the last several years, I have worked to understand my previous anti-Black racist thoughts and actions," said Peters. "I have learned much through this reformational journey and feel ready to return to coaching. I am in an influential position to positively impact community leaders and contribute to a more inclusive generation in hockey."
Peters, 58, agreed to a multi-year contract with the Hurricanes. The coach from Three Hills, Alta., has an extensive resume, including serving parts of six seasons as an NHL head coach with the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary from 2014 until 2019. He had a 199-175-64 regular-season record between the two teams. He also served as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings from 2011 to 2014.
Before his time in the NHL, Peters spent three seasons as Rockford's head coach after a three-year stint with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs. He led Spokane to a WHL title and a Memorial Cup championship in 2008.
Peters has coached and represented Canada at various levels, capturing a gold medal at the 2009 Hlinka Gretzky Cup tournament. Peters also served as an assistant coach once and head coach twice for the men’s world championships, capturing two gold medals (2015, 2016) and a silver medal (2017).
He was also an assistant coach for Canada’s World Cup of Hockey championship team in 2016.
Aliu said that Lethbridge's decision to hire Peters was an example of hockey's old boys' club looking out for its own.
"It's like that at every level. Look at how many coaches in the league have coached two, three, four, or five teams, and they just continue to do the same thing over and over again," said Aliu. "There's so many up and coming coaches that are just waiting for the opportunity.
"It's just really unfortunate to see. (...) It's obviously not a coach that I would want guiding my kid and teaching him principles."
Aliu also alleged that Peters wrote a letter at the time to management at the Chicago Blackhawks — Rockford's parent club — that further alienated the young player from the organization. He noted that five members of that front office went on to be general managers for other teams, essentially ruining his reputation in the NHL.
Only Rick Dudley, who went on to work with the Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes, and Florida Panthers in various executive roles, had stood up for Aliu.
"This is a man that's believed in me from Day 1," said Aliu of Dudley. "He was the sole reason why the Chicago Blackhawks even drafted me and I know that for a fact.
"He stood in my corner and has tried to help me navigate my career. He's brought me along with him to his other stops, including Atlanta, and obviously tried to help me out in when he was with the Canadiens for a short time."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press