Mitch Marner says players have the right to speak up.
The Maple Leafs forward spent time Tuesday discussing his experiences as an NHL rookie with Toronto, along with an allegation Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters directed racial slurs at Akim Aliu, a Nigerian-born player, 10 years ago while Peters was coaching the rookie in the minors.
Aliu didn’t specifically name Peters but posted on his verified Twitter account about how a “protege” of former Leafs coach Mike Babcock “dropped the N bomb several times towards me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music.” Babcock, according to The Associated Press, has been a mentor to Peters since Babcock coached him in college.
Aliu’s tweets emerged after reports surfaced of how poorly Babcock treated his players during his time with the Leafs, including Marner, who confirmed that during his rookie season he was asked by Babcock to rank Leafs players in terms of their work ethic. Babcock then shared that information with the players.
“I think if you wanna share (your) stories (involving coaches), do it … if they don’t want to hold it in, it’s your story to tell,” Marner said Tuesday as the Leafs wrapped up practice and headed to Detroit for Wednesday’s road game against the Red Wings.
Marner said Babcock later apologized at the time of the incident and says he has no idea how his story with Babcock came out.
He’s also ready to move on.
“It’s over, it’s done with, I’m not talking about it anymore,” Marner said. “I was lucky enough the guys in the room (during his rookie season) understood the situation, they didn’t take it to heart, they stuck by my side … I was lucky.”
“I think he knew he was mistaken for what he did,” added Marner.
Babcock, who was fired last week by the Leafs after four-plus seasons, told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Monday he was using the conversation as a motivational tool at the time to get Marner to work harder.
Despite the incident, Marner said was thankful for what Babcock had done for the team overall and claims he messaged Babcock after he was replaced behind the bench by Sheldon Keefe.
“I texted him after, I said thank you for everything you did here,” Marner said. “He turned around this team, this franchise. I said good luck wherever it takes you next.”
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