Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters apologized to his team and general manager in a letter Wednesday night, some 48 hours after a former player alleged he directed racist comments at him when both were in the minors 10 years ago.
In a letter addressed to Flames GM Brad Treliving released to multiple news outlets, Peters said he used ”offensive language … in a professional setting a decade ago.”
Peters called it an “isolated and immediately regrettable incident.”
Peters was not with the Flames in Buffalo for their game against the Sabres on Wednesday as the team continued to investigate the allegations.
“The statement was made in a moment of frustration and does not reflect my personal values,” Peters wrote.
“After the incident, I was rightfully challenged about my use of language, and I immediately returned to the dressing room to apologize to the team. I have regretted the incident since it happened, and I now also apologize to anyone negatively affected by my words.”
Former NHLer Akim Aliu tweeted Monday that Peters directed racial slurs towards him when both were with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs — the Chicago Blackhawks’ top farm team — in 2009-10.
Born in Nigeria and raised in Ukraine and Canada, Aliu never referred to Peters by name, but used Calgary’s airport code “YYC” when writing about the alleged coach who “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.”
Another former player alleged Peters kicked him and punched a teammate when they were all with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Aliu has not responded to interview requests from The Canadian Press.
Peters did not specifically apologize to Aliu in his letter.
Treliving confirmed to reporters after Wednesday’s game that he had received the letter from Peters.
“We want to make sure we are doing a thorough job and looking under every stone, rock, and doing all the things that need to be done. So the letter tonight is part of this that we will obviously review,” he said. “And I’m hopeful that we will have an update for you tomorrow.”
Peters remained employed by the Flames as of Wednesday night.
The Flames did their best to distance themselves from the controversy swirling around the head coach before the game in Buffalo.
Matthew Tkachuk started his morning media availability by stating he would only take questions about hockey.
But Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, who spent four seasons behind Carolina’s bench with Peters, added to the intense scrutiny by confirming his boss confronted players in a physical manner.
“It for sure happened, the two issues that are in question,” Brind’Amour told reporters in New York before his team’s game against the Rangers.
Former Hurricanes defenceman Michal Jordan, who now plays overseas, made the allegation Tuesday on Twitter.
“Never wish anything bad to the person but you get what you deserve Bill,” Jordan said. “Kicking me and punching other player to the head during the game then pretending like nothing happened…couldn’t believe my eyes.”
While Brind’Amour confirmed Jordan’s story, he said he was “proud” of the way those incidents were handled by both the players and management.
“It was definitely dealt with, in my opinion, correctly,” he said. ”We’ve definitely moved past that.”
Peters, who is in his second season with the Flames after four years in Carolina, did not mention that incident in his apology letter.
Associate coach Geoff Ward ran the bench against the Sabres in Peters’ absence.
“We all feel for everybody involved,” Ward said before the game. ”It’s not a perfect situation, but I’m not going to stand here and try to put words in people’s mouths. We’ll see what happens when the investigation is concluded.”
“Our job is to go out there and play,” Tkachuk said of how the situation is impacting the players. “That’s all (the team’s) been stressing to us.”
Backlund said he was surprised by the allegations against Peters, who helped Calgary to the NHL’s second-best record last season with 107 points.
“Bill’s been great to me and the group,” Backlund said. ”Nothing bad to say about Bill.”
“My relationship’s been good,” Calgary centre Sean Monahan added. ”No problems. Right now I want to talk about hockey, and that’s it.”
Sabres winger Jeff Skinner, who played for Peters with the Hurricanes and spoke before Brind’Amour commented in New York, chose his words carefully when asked about his former coach.
“He was fine with me,” Skinner said. ”Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff going on. I’m sure Calgary will get to the bottom of it.”
The allegations levied against Peters and the revelation of some questionable motivational tactics used by former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock have raised questions about how people in positions of power deal with players in today’s game.
The Toronto Sun and Postmedia reported Babcock, who was fired last week, asked a rookie to draw up a list during the 2016-17 season that ranked his teammates from hardest- to least-hardest working. Babcock then shared that list with some of the veterans at the bottom of the ledger.
It was later revealed the rookie in question was star winger Mitch Marner, who struggled at times under Babcock during his first season.
Peters served as Babcock’s assistant with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs in the late 1990s. He was named Rockford’s head coach in 2008-09 and would spend three seasons with the IceHogs.
He then rejoined Babcock as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings from 2011-12 to 2013-14 before getting hired by Carolina.
In one of his tweets, Aliu referred to Peters as Babcock’s “protege.”
“There’s going to be relationships that didn’t go well,” Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Tuesday. ”When you’re constantly pushing to a threshold to get the most out of players in an intense environment, you’re going to have situations where players feel they should have been handled differently, or they didn’t like it. You do the best you can.
“There is a real awareness over the last year or two, certainly on our staff … to be more understanding, maybe, of young players — more caring, possibly.”
One of Babcock’s assistants in Toronto, Senators head coach D.J. Smith, said Wednesday he leads the way he wanted to be motivated back when he was player.
“You can be hard on guys, but you’ve got to make sure that their mental well-being is (of) the utmost (importance),” Smith told reporters in Ottawa. ”I don’t believe you’re going to get anything out of the player unless he feels mentally that he’s all-in with you. There’s a fine line with that, but the culture’s certainly changed. Players are different, people are different.
“What was acceptable years ago is not acceptable anymore. And certainly it’s changed for the better.”
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press