RALEIGH, N.C. – Looking back on when it happened, I just thought it was an NHL coach being protective of his team and overreacting to a question just before they took to the ice.
With the recent flurry of allegations that have surfaced regarding current Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters’ conduct towards players he coached with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, as well as during his first NHL head coaching stint leading the Carolina Hurricanes, his actions during a pregame scrum held on Feb. 13, 2016 began to make a lot more sense.
Looking to make an impact
Peters came to coach the Carolina Hurricanes to play at a higher level, part of the Redvolution that then-President and GM Ron Francis stylized as a rebuild that would help the team earn a playoff spot.
The coach came in with a confident, even arrogant swagger that he would be the one to get the job done.
As he said during his opening press conference, he held the proverbial ‘hammer’, and he would swing it when needed.
Apparently, no one realized that he meant it, literally.
How did we miss it?
Claims of verbal abuse first surfaced when former IceHog Akim Alou posted his negative experiences playing for Peters on social media on Monday.
Incidents of physical abuse suffered by former Hurricane Michal Jordan were posted a day later.
Obviously, with the Carolina Hurricanes now in the middle of this controversy, having hired and employed Peters for four seasons, from 2014-2018, questions exist for Francis, now leading Seattle’s expansion process to begin play in the NHL in 2021-2022.
He hasn’t responded about the situation in any way.
Who knew, who didn’t?
Many now want to know how Peters progressed upwards in his career, including three years as an assistant in Detroit under recently fired Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, before he ended up in Raleigh.
The folks in Calgary want to know how they didn’t catch on either, particularly more so now that current Carolina coach, Rod Brind’Amour, a longtime assistant, including under Peters’ leadership, confirmed Jordan’s allegations.
“Talking about the incident with Bill, for sure happened, the two issues that are in question,” Brind’Amour said during a pregame scrum in New York, in preparation for a game Wednesday against the Rangers.
“To me it’s what happened after that I’m proud about actually,” Brind’Amour said.
“The way the players handled it and the way the sports staff handled it, which was to bring it to management right away, and then management handled it correctly and never heard of it again. It was definitely dealt with in my opinion correctly. We’ve definitely moved past that.”
Trying to piece it together
The events during that pregame scrum years earlier, now make more sense.
The pressure that the coach had to place on himself and others had to have been building up.
Exactly when the alleged physical contact with Jordan and another unnamed player took place is still unknown and may never be.
Also, under Francis, the team’s handling of the situation apparently was treated as water under the bridge.
Or was it?
Though he kept a pretty cordial relationship with local media during his time with Carolina, he did have one transgression.
A lesser-known instance of Peters’ ‘losing it’ with media present, in addition to a highly publicized one regarding former Canes goaltender Eddie Lack in March 2017, takes the story back to that day in 2016.
Intensity or aggression?
Peters’ adrenaline was obviously high following a second shootout loss in a row suffered the night before.
The pressure was mounting during a critical playoff push during his second year as a head coach, trying to snap the Carolina Hurricanes’ then seven-year postseason drought.
Add to that the fact that the imminent departure of captain and franchise leader in multiple categories Eric Staal would take place in two weeks, Peters was amped and ready to blow.
His quickly judged misinterpretation of my question at the end of the scrum that took place in the hallway outside the dressing room spawned an aggressive response that stunned me and the handful of media members present.
Listening to the audio and looking back on it over these past four years, I continue to evaluate the tone in his voice that was building, answering questions about his team being unable to generate more offense to win more games.
There had been frustration growing to a point that we hadn’t seen up until then.
Ready, but no finish
Carolina had five days following a 2-1 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on the road to prepare for what eventually resulted in another 2-1 shootout loss at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I posed my question inquiring about their readiness following that time in-between and that’s when he lost it.
“Oh, we were ready,” he began to say turning around like he wanted to leave in disgust.
He pivoted back and added, “we were ready last night – go watch the first period.”
I tried to clarify my question, but he kept going, growing angrier has he went.
“We were ready, don’t give me that. Don’t tell me that we weren’t ready.”
Again, I and fellow beat writers tried to refocus the direction of my original inquiry.
It didn’t work and the conversation escalated to another level.
“Don’t tell me we weren’t ready,” he repeated as I tried to get my words out.
“I said you were ready, but from what I’m hearing, the finish wasn’t there, right?” I asked.
“So, what was the score?” he quipped.
“2-1,” I replied.
“There was no finish,” he countered.
“Finish means the light comes on. There was zero finish. Zero.”
“Were there scoring chances? Did we outshoot them 13-8?
“MHmm,” I replied.
“Then what do you want?” he exclaimed.
“We need the light to go on! F— me!”
Peters then turned and walked away into the dressing room.
We walked away stunned by why he reacted that way.
Dazed and confused
The Hurricanes beat the New York Islanders that day, 6-3.
Ironically enough, it was the largest goal production of the season, but it was unsustainable.
I wasn’t sure what would happen postgame. Nothing really.
I didn’t ask any questions.
I didn’t need to hear more of anything from him that night.
Sitting 25-21-10 in the standings after that day, a 10-10-6 finish left Peters and Carolina 10 points out of a playoff spot.
I didn’t really push to ask Peters many hard-driving questions over the next two years of sub .500 level finishes that still left the Hurricanes on the outside looking in following the regular season.
It was much of the same: “We were ready, but didn’t have any finish.”
The light never went on enough.
What about the man?
Peters never acknowledged that outburst with us, never explained himself.
At least not that I heard of.
That left me with a little less appreciation for him in his role as head coach – not being accountable for his actions.
Sources have indicated that following the alleged physical abuse incidents in Carolina, Peters did apologize to the individual players involved and the team and management.
However, average results and lack of making the postseason for the remainder of his time there were the probable result of the damage that had been done as a result of his actions.
Personally, maybe he turned a corner.
A fresh start in Calgary yielded impressive and winning results for Peters and the Flames last season.
However, past incidents now combined with leading a team performing at a level lower than expected threatens to unravel that progress, and even potentially end his coaching career in the NHL.
Has something happened there that we are yet to find out?
Maybe Calgary’s investigation will reveal that the man is not a monster, but a passionate individual who lost his focus to succeed by treating others by domination, rather than with appreciation and respect.
Either way, the trail Peters has plowed to this point will take some time to smooth over and hopefully lead him and hockey to a better place than where it is right now.
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