In what could be the start of a reckoning in hockey culture, Bill Peters has resigned as Flames coach
A week that featured charges, revelations, investigations and a fair amount of soul-searching ended the way most figured it would Friday – with the Calgary Flames finally parting ways with coach Bill Peters.
Geoff Ward, who stepped in and replaced Peters behind the bench in Wednesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, will continue coaching the team on an interim basis, going forward.
According to Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who spoke at length at a press conference at the Saddledome, Peters officially tendered his resignation to the team Friday morning; the Flames accepted it, and Peters is no longer in the organization.
Treliving would not go into any further details about what might have happened had Peters not resigned in terms of what may happen with the remaining years of his contract going forward.
“I’m not going to get into the details of that,” said Treliving, noting at several different points in his press conference: “He is no longer with the organization.”
Peters came under fire Monday evening, when Akim Aliu, a former player on the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs, charged on Twitter that Peters had made racially charged comments about Aliu’s choice of dressing-room music a decade ago, when they were together in the minors. Rockford is the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks; Peters was the head coach at the time and Aliu a rookie player in the organization.
According to Aliu’s tweets, 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.”
Peters later confirmed in a letter of apology to Treliving that he’d used “offensive language … in a professional setting a decade ago” and acknowledged that there was “no excuse for language that is offensive.” Peters also said he was “rightfully” challenged by his use of language that day, presumably by the Rockford players, and that he immediately returned to the dressing room to issue an apology.
A day later, Aliu responded with a letter of his own, saying he’d found Peters’ statement to be misleading, insincere and concerning and that he would refrain from further comment until he’d spoken directly to the NHL about his own version of the events that had unfolded.
When asked if he’d previously been aware of any of the allegations that recently came up about Peters when he was vetting him initially in his coaching search, Treliving answered: “Categorically, no. We knew nothing of any nature that we’ve been dealing with the last couple of days.
“I don’t know if you’re going to find out everything about everyone’s past, but you have to do the best job you possibly can.”
Treliving has been the point man for the Flames’ investigation of the matter and revealed that when Aliu’s allegations were first made – in the midst of last Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins – he immediately telephoned Aliu that same evening to get further details. Later that evening, Treliving said he sat with Peters on the team’s flight to Buffalo and questioned him about the matter.
Upon arriving in Buffalo, Treliving said he convened a staff meeting to put together “an action plan of how to move forward” that focused on three steps.
The first was to conduct a full review of the allegation.
“It had to be thorough,” said Treliving. “I’ve been criticized – a lot – over the last three or four days, that things have not moved quickly, that they’ve not moved in a timely fashion. If I’ve 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 held correctly and in a timely fashion, but I was not going to trade carelessness for thoroughness.”
Treliving said part two of the action plan was dealing with his own team’s “young men” — to provide support, information and updates on the situation. He also checked to see if anything untoward had happened to his own team where players might have been put in “situations they were not comfortable with.”
“There were none,” said Treliving.
That first night, Treliving said he informed Peters he would not be running the team’s practice the next day. Eventually, Peters left the team and took a commercial flight back to Calgary.
The day after Aliu’s tweets, Treliving said he spoke to five of Aliu’s teammates in Rockford; to the management group of both the Blackhawks and the IceHogs; and also to other members of the Rockford coaching staff. That same day, another shoe dropped.
Former Hurricanes defenceman Michal Jordan, now playing for Khabarovsk Amur in Russia’s KHL, levelled a different sort of charge, saying on Twitter that Peters had kicked and punched an unnamed Hurricanes player on the bench during Peters’ time coaching Carolina.
The Hurricanes, via current coach Rod Brind’Amour, then an assistant to Peters, later confirmed that the incident cited by Jordan “for sure happened.” Treliving tracked Jordan down in Russia to get his version of the events and also spoke to members of the Hurricanes’ management team for their input on that separate allegation.
Peters was in his second season as Flames head coach, after replacing Glen Gulutzan in the summer of 2018.
Prior to that, he’d been head coach of the Hurricanes for four years, joining the organization after a three-year turn as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings under Mike Babcock.
It may well be that the Aliu revelations contribute to a catharsis for the sport of hockey, and not just at the NHL level. All coaching relationships at all levels involve a level of power and a layer of trust. The fact that those two qualities are abused on some level every day is unlikely a major revelation. Social media has created a public platform for people to speak up about transgressions that have occurred against them. Depending upon what happens going forward, this may well be a #MeToo-style moment for hockey.
“In a general sense, there is acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour, whether it be in dressing rooms — or society,” said Treliving. “We all evolve. From our standpoint, you want people to feel safe and secure in the environment. But I think this is going to be a learning lesson for everyone. Hopefully, as difficult as these days have been, this is something that can be positive moving forward.”
Treliving went on to say, about the evolution of hockey culture: “From 10 years ago, I think we have changed. You evolve all the time. You have to continue to evolve and look and see if there are issues that need to be addressed and changed. I know how we operate in terms of the culture and the values we hold dear to us. And that type of behaviour has no place.
“Now, are there more steps that need to be taken? I’m a big believer in accountability and responsibility, so will be accountable to make sure we’re doing everything we can from our standpoint. But I think lots of steps have taken place in terms of the hockey culture to move forward positively. Obviously, we need to continue to do that – as every business and as society does.”
Under Peters last season, the Flames earned 107 points and became the NHL’s Western Conference overall champions, completing their single most successful regular season since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989. However, they then lost to the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche in the opening playoff round and were off to a poor start in the 2019-20 season, with an 11-12-4 record after 27 games. If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Flames would not qualify.
Ward is a long-time NHL assistant coach, who spent seven years in Boston, and helped the Bruins win the 2011 Stanley Cup. After coaching Mannheim to a DEL title in 2014, he returned to North America and worked three years an assistant on John Hynes’ staff with the New Jersey Devils. Ward moved to Calgary, with the title associate coach when Peters was originally hired. Apart from his time in Mannheim, Ward has also been a head coach at the junior and minor-pro level. He won the AHL coach of the year award in 2003.
“I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes – I was flying without a compass,” said Treliving. “We tried to do the very best we could. We tried to get all the information we could. We tried to not react until we knew all the information. Like anything you go through in life, you’re going to learn.
“I pray that nobody in this room, or anybody else, has to go through this. Hopefully, that doesn’t land at anybody’s feet. But you deal with it the best you possibly can.”