Flames coach Bill Peters apologizes for 'hurtful' comments in letter to GM

Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters acknowledged in a letter of apology Wednesday that he used offensive language in dealing with a Nigerian-born player 10 years ago in the minors.

General manager Brad Treliving confirmed receipt of the letter, which was first posted on Twitter by TSN, a Canadian sports cable network, during the third period of Calgary's 3-2 overtime victory at Buffalo. Treliving would say only that the Flames are reviewing the letter as part of their continuing investigation into Peters, and that the GM could have an update as early as Thursday.

Without revealing the specific words he used, Peters wrote in the letter that he knows his comments to Akim Aliu have been the source of both anger and disappointment.

"Although it was an isolated and immediately regrettable incident, I take responsibility for what I said,'' Peters wrote, saying the comments were made in a "moment of frustration'' and that his words didn't mirror his "personal values.''

Those were Peters' first comments in the three days since the NHL and the team began investigating allegations made by Aliu, who said Peters "dropped the N bomb several times" because he didn't like the player's choice of music. The alleged confrontation happened during the 2009-10 season while the two were with the Chicago Blackhawks' minor league affiliate in Rockford, Illinois.

"I have regretted the incident since it happened and I now also apologize to anyone negatively affected by my words,'' Peters wrote. "I meant no disrespect in what I said and it was not directed at anyone in particular. But that doesn't matter. It was hurtful and demeaning. I am truly sorry.''

Aliu responded to Peters' comments Thursday, releasing a statement to TSN in which he called Peters' statement "misleading, insincere and concerning."

He also said he had accepted an invitation from the NHL to discuss the situation and would not publicly address the matter further until after that meeting.

Treliving called it a "difficult three days for everyone.''

"This investigation we're doing, I know everyone wants this done immediately and the world we live in is immediate,'' Treliving said. "I hope you can appreciate we're trying to do everything we possibly can to make sure we get it right and get all the information that needs to be gotten.''

Peters traveled with the team to Buffalo on Tuesday, a day after Aliu posted his allegations. But Peters' whereabouts were unknown, with the Flames saying only that he wouldn't be behind the bench for Calgary's game at Buffalo on Wednesday night. Associate coach Geoff Ward served as coach.

Ward and Flames players attempted to place the focus on the game, not Peters.

"I don't have any comment about that, I'm just here to talk about hockey,'' Ward said. "Everything else will be decided when everybody's done their due diligence on it.''

Ward said the Flames have not informed him what his role would be beyond coaching Wednesday's game, his first as an NHL head coach. He has more than 25 years of coaching experience and joined Peters' staff this season after spending the previous three years as an assistant in New Jersey.

"We all feel for everybody involved. It's not a perfect situation,'' Ward said. "We'll worry about the next step once we get through this game today.''

Following the win at Buffalo, the Flames were to return to Calgary, Alberta, to open a three-game homestand Saturday against Ottawa.

"All this extraneous stuff that's going on, we're just not even thinking about it,'' center Derek Ryan said. "As professional athletes, we go through different situations throughout the year where we have to block stuff out. And we're just trying to keep that as another one of those situations.''

Peters also was accused this week of punching and kicking players while he was Carolina's head coach.

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said, "for sure that happened," backing a former player's complaints about Peters physically going after his own players behind the bench during his four seasons in Carolina from 2014 to 2018.

Brind'Amour, who was an assistant on Peters' staff, said he was proud of the way players and support staff handled what happened by immediately bringing their concerns to team officials.

"Management handled it directly and never heard of it again and never saw anything else after that," said Brind'Amour, who spoke to reporters in New York before the Hurricanes' game against the Rangers. "So it was definitely dealt with, in my opinion, correctly. ... We've definitely moved past that."

New Jersey teammates Wayne Simmonds and P.K. Subban, who are both black, were asked about the Aliu-Peters situation before the Devils faced the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

"I can guarantee you every single black hockey player has been called a racial slur at some point in their career, whether it's been younger or older,'' Simmonds said. "It's something people don't like to talk about because it makes them uncomfortable. In light of this coming out, hopefully this can do some good for the hockey community and shed some light on it.''

Simmonds was part of a racist incident in 2011 when a fan threw a banana on the ice during his shootout attempt during a preseason game in London, Ontario, when he was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Aliu-Peters incident raises its own set of concerns, Simmonds said.

"You never want to hear things like that," he said. "Those things are extremely discouraging for people of African descent and of color. Something like that happens to you and [the] one person that's doing it to you controls kind of your destiny, it's definitely something that needs to be explored. It's extremely disheartening and I definitely feel for Akim."

Subban got to know Aliu growing up in Toronto and called him a "good kid."

"Until I get all the info I can't really comment on what exactly happened," Subban said. "But I can tell you this right now, the first thought of it is it leaves a bitter taste in everybody's mouth. It just doesn't look good."

Former Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, who sold the team two years ago, told the Seattle Times on Wednesday night that he would have fired Peters "in a nanosecond" had he been made aware of the players' allegations by then-general manager Ron Francis.

"I'm pretty upset," Karmanos told the Seattle Times. "And I have my calls in to Ronnie as well. I think he's the one who's going to have to tell people what he did when he found out that the coach had done these things.''

Brind'Amour took over as Carolina's coach after Peters opted out of his contract following the 2017-18 season. Peters was then immediately hired by the Flames, where he led the team to a 50-win season and a Pacific Division title in his first season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.