Longtime NHL critic and diversity advocate Akim Aliu gets a tryout with the Sharks' AHL team

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After years of feeling alienated by the NHL and campaigning to diversify the sport, Akim Aliu is getting another shot at playing pro hockey, this time with the San Jose Sharks' minor league affiliate.

Sharks general manager Mike Grier informed reporters at the league’s GM meetings in Florida on Wednesday that he offered Aliu a tryout contract with the American Hockey League's San Jose Barracuda for the remainder of the season.

The 34-year-old Aliu, who plays defense, confirmed the tryout by text to The Associated Press, saying his flight had just landed in California.

“It’s huge. I’ve prided myself on always doing things the right way morally, and never wavered through all the dark times,” Aliu wrote. “Extremely blessed to get this opportunity.”

Aliu last played professionally at the end of the 2019-20 season with Litvinov HC in the Czech Republic’s top league and finished with one goal and two assists in six games. He was born in Nigeria to mixed-race parents and then lived in Ukraine before his family eventually settled in the Toronto suburbs, where he picked up hockey.

Aliu is a journeyman minor leaguer who is best known for confronting racism in hockey. He came to prominence by making two life-altering social media posts in November 2019, which led to Bill Peters’ abrupt resignation as coach of the Calgary Flames.

Aliu revealed Peters bullied and directed racist slurs at him when the two were in the minors a decade earlier. Peters resigned days later, and Aliu’s revelations led to the NHL instituting a personal conduct policy in a bid to eradicate racism in what’s traditionally been a white-dominated sport.

The altercation with Peters, and being the target of a hazing incident while in junior hockey, led Aliu to believe his career was stunted because NHL teams had labeled him a troublemaker.

Aliu, who was selected in the second round of the 2007 draft by Chicago, spent a majority of his 13 seasons jumping from one minor league team to another. He appeared in just seven NHL games with the Flames split over two seasons.

Though Aliu had not officially retired from hockey, he co-founded a players-backed Hockey Diversity Alliance to raise awareness and make hockey more accessible to minorities and underprivileged youth.

Aliu, who grew up poor, would buy used equipment and take public transit to practices and games across Toronto.

Last year, Scholastic and the publishing company of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick released a graphic novel highlighting Aliu’s life titled: “Akim Aliu Dreamer: Growing Up Black in the World of Hockey.”


AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl