BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Calgary Flames did their best to distance themselves from the controversy swirling around head coach Bill Peters.
Matthew Tkachuk started his media availability Wednesday morning by stating he would only take questions about hockey ahead of the team’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
The other two Flames trotted in front of the team’s backdrop were brief, at best, with their answers on a tumultuous stretch that began when a former player alleged Peters directed racist comments at him when both were in the minors 10 years ago.
Then another former player alleged Peters kicked him and punched a teammate when they were all with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Flames are attempting to keep things tight to the vest as they continue their investigation, but one of Peters’ former assistants added to the intense scrutiny at the other end of New York state.
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, who spent four seasons behind Carolina’s bench with Peters, confirmed 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.”
That came on the heels of Monday’s explosive tweets from another former NHLer, Akim Aliu, who wrote that Peters directed racial slurs towards him when both were with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League 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.”
Aliu has not responded to interview requests from The Canadian Press.
While he confirmed Jordan’s story, Brind’Amour 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, meanwhile, remains employed by the Flames, but isn’t currently with the team.
“It’s not our focus,” Flames centre Mikael Backlund said.
Associate coach Geoff Ward, who was set to run the bench against the Sabres, said he didn’t know if Peters is still in Buffalo.
“We all feel for everybody involved,” Ward said. ”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.”
Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who is conducting the investigation into the past conduct of his head coach, was not made available to reporters Wednesday.
“Our job is to go out there and play,” Tkachuk said of how the situation is impacting the players. “That’s all (the team has) 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 of Peters. ”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.”