Akim Aliu, the player who helped prompt a new discussion about racism and coaching behavior in hockey, is heading back to the ice.
Aliu signed Tuesday in the Czech Extraliga for the remainder of the season. He joins HC Litvinov with 14 games left in the season, giving him a chance to display his game to any NHL teams interested in signing him.
The 30-year-old said he thought about this move for a long time before deciding to play overseas.
”It was a tough decision,” Aliu said in a text message to The Associated Press. ”We are doing good work here on shining light on the issues in the game. My hesitation was on not losing this momentum.”
The Czech league season runs until March, and HC Litvinov is in the playoff hunt.
A second-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007, Aliu played in seven NHL games with the Calgary Flames. The right winger/defenseman has since bounced around to various leagues and spent last season with the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.
The Nigeria-born Aliu, who was raised in Ukraine and Canada, said last fall that veteran coach Bill Peters directed racial slurs toward him while with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs. Aliu said Peters ”dropped the N bomb several times” because he didn’t like the player’s choice of music.
Peters resigned as Calgary coach after comments from Aliu and another player who said Peters kicked him and punched another player while with the Carolina Hurricanes. Aliu has since met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and other league officials about racism in hockey.
”My message on top of the racial (slurs) and abuse of coaches to players is not giving up,” Aliu said. ”And I want to be an example that no matter what happens, you continue to strive for your dreams.”