Former NHL player Akim Aliu met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and other league executives on Tuesday in Toronto after his allegations of racist language led to the resignation of Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters.
"It was a tough week, but we had some great discussion," Aliu said in a brief statement after the meeting, which was also attended by his legal representatives. "They couldn't have been kinder or more receptive to the message that we're trying to bring."
On Nov. 25, Aliu alleged that Peters used racist language toward him in 2009-10, when they were both with the Rockford IceHogs, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. The incident was corroborated by two teammates, who said Peters didn't offer an apology when confronted. Instead, Aliu alleges that Peters sent Blackhawks management a letter asking to have him demoted to the ECHL after the incident. The Blackhawks said in a statement, "The purported incident had not been reported or brought to our attention prior to yesterday and had no effect on any player personnel decision regarding Mr. Aliu."
Peters released a statement last Wednesday that apologized to Flames general manager Brad Treliving for "offensive language I used in a professional setting a decade ago," calling it "an isolated and immediately regrettable incident."
Aliu called the apology "misleading, insincere and concerning" in announcing that he'd been invited to meet with the NHL. Aliu, 30, was born in Nigeria but grew up in Ukraine and Canada.
The Flames announced four days after Aliu's initial accusation that Peters had resigned as coach after two seasons. Treliving would not confirm that Peters would have been fired had he not resigned, nor would he label the language used as "racist."
Aliu's discussion with the NHL is expected to be the first step in a large conversation that will occur at the board of governors meeting in Pebble Beach, California, next week.
"We are pleased to have met with Akim Aliu today and had a productive and candid conversation," Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a league statement. "Today's discussion is part of a broader, thorough review and process that the league is undertaking. We share a mutual objective: ensuring that hockey is an open and inclusive sport at all levels."
Aliu might appear at the board of governors meeting, where items such as protection for players who speak out about abusive coaches, as well as a revised harassment and discrimination policy, are expected to be presented.
"I think there's some big change coming," Aliu said. "It's long overdue, and I'm excited to see it come to fruition."
Also Tuesday, the NHL Coaches' Association put out its first statement on the recent controversies involving current and former coaches, saying, "there is no room in the NHL, or anywhere else, for abusive behavior of any kind."
Former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who was recently accused by former player Johan Franzen of "verbal attacks" that made him "scared to be in the arena," is a member of the coaches' association executive committee.