DENVER – The Colorado Eagles, a minor-league affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, issued an open apology Wednesday to Akim Aliu, a former Eagles and NHL player, after 2011 photos came to light of the team’s equipment manager posing in blackface alongside Aliu in a story in The Wall Street Journal. The equipment manager has been placed on administrative leave.
Earlier this week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced new changes on how to deal with personnel conduct issues after Aliu alleged last month that one of his former coaches, Bill Peters, used racial slurs toward him while Aliu was playing in the minor leagues. Peters resigned as coach of the Calgary Flames at the end of November after the allegations came to light.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that two years after the abuse at the hands of Peters, Colorado Eagles equipment manager Tony Deynzer appeared at a Halloween party Aliu was told to attend wearing blackface, a black wig and a jersey with Aliu’s number and nickname on it.
Tony Deynzer, an employee of the Colorado Eagles who is still with the team, showed up to the team Halloween party dressed as Akim Aliu wearing a custom jersey with his nickname. Akim was told to arrive to the party late. They all set him up and then laughed about it. https://t.co/oJoOaw3Z8W pic.twitter.com/Nj8imXDYEq— Master Shake (@cowgirl_bebop) December 11, 2019
The Wall Street Journal reported that people at the party urged Aliu to pose for a picture with Deynzer, which he did, though only Deynzer smiled.
The Journal reported that Aliu met with Bettman and other league officials last week and told them about the incident with Deynzer.
The career of Aliu, who was born in Nigeria but grew up in Ukraine, derailed after the incident with Peters, he told the Journal. He was a second-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007 and played for several different minor league teams over the next few seasons before joining the Calgary Flames in 2012. He would play parts of two seasons for the Flames but spent much of his remaining career with minor league and foreign teams.
He played in 10 games for the Eagles, who were then in the ECHL, netting two goals and four assists during the 2011-12 season. He was 22 years old at the time.
He told the journal he felt he was set up for the blackface stunt, being told he should arrive to the party late and seeing that the jersey Deynzer wore had to be custom-made. He told the Journal he asked for a trade in the weeks after the incident.
The Eagles, which are now an affiliate of the Avalanche and play in the northern Colorado city of Windsor and in the American Hockey League, issued a formal apology to Aliu Wednesday afternoon – after the Journal article was released. Team spokesman Kevin McGlue said the team was releasing the apology after they were “informed” of the incident and that they had no prior knowledge of it:
“Dear Mr. Aliu,
As an organization, the discovery of this event deeply saddens us. Although we had no prior knowledge, that doesn’t excuse or diminish the fact that this has hurt a fellow human being. Rest assured, our organization holds no ego too big or stature so proud that we are above apologies for any wrongdoing. As a family-oriented organization, we wholeheartedly seek your forgiveness and sincerely apologize.
We are truly very sorry, and we will also assure you that this behavior is not and never will be acceptable in our organization.”
Deynzer was still listed as the head equipment manager on the Eagles’ website on Wednesday afternoon. His biography said he has been working on equipment teams since 1995 for various minor league and amateur hockey teams and was named Equipment Manager of the Year for the ECHL in 2010. He appeared to have deleted his Twitter account after the Journal's story went live.
McGlue, the Eagles spokesperson, said he was unsure if Deynzer was still with the team when reached Wednesday afternoon.
Shortly afterward, the Avalanche confirmed that Deynzer was placed on an administrative leave of absence.