Ever since Akim Aliu became a member of the Windsor Spitfires in the fall of 2005, he has been a controversial figure. A hazing incident and subsequent fight with Steve Downie eventually resulted in both players being traded. Traded to the Sudbury Wolves in January 2006, after missing quite a few games of his rookie season, Aliu had a very respectable second half of the 2005-06 season.
Aliu’s numbers in Sudbury were very good, but his tenure with the Wolves was not without incident. After what the team described as disciplinary issues, Aliu left the team in March, just before the Wolves entered the post-season. The big winger returned prior to the playoff run, but his ice time was limited and he was not very productive.
Earlier this month, Aliu was traded once again, this time to the London Knights. Expected to be a very good environment for the sometimes dominant, very creative, emotional power forward, HF spoke to Aliu at the Combine, just prior to the announcement of the trade.
HF: How long have you been playing hockey?
AA: I have been playing since I was nine years old. I lived in the Ukraine, in Kiev, for most of my life until I came to Canada and did not touch the ice until I came over from there. So, I kind of saw that everyone was playing hockey, and I said "this looks like fun."
HF: That is what made you choose hockey over other sports?p>
AA: It’s kind of like a religion here. Everyone was doing it, so I wanted to be part of the group. All my buddies were playing and I just loved it.
HF: You started out in Windsor and the issues that you had there are well known. Tell me how you felt about the trade away from there to Sudbury?
AA: I had a pretty good second half that year, but I regret that I missed so many games while I was with Windsor that first year. It was extra time off of my development, and that hurt me, especially me, with starting out so late in hockey. I needed as much ice time as I could get. When it did happen, the trade to Sudbury, it was a good trade for me.
HF: This year, it has been an up and down year for you, at times things looked very bright and at others, not as good. Can you talk about what happened when you left the team toward the end of the season?
AA: The situation was really blown out of proportion. When I left, a lot of people were saying that I got kicked off the team or that I got suspended by the team, but that really wasn’t the case. It was more of a mutual agreement between Mike Foligno and I that I go home for three or four days. I think it was for the best, and when I got back, the team went on a long good run in the playoffs.
HF: Have you talked to your new coach about ice time or what your role will be this coming year?
AA: We have not really talked about that. It’s too early, you just have to go into camp in the best shape you can and see what happens.
HF: What do you personally feel that your on-ice strength is in hockey?
AA: I think I skate really well for a bigger guy. And I think that I am a pretty creative player, trying to make something out of nothing out there on the ice. I try to and can make my linemates better and I bring a little of everything to the table.
HF: What on-ice skills are you going to be working on over the next few years?
AA: For sure I need to work on D-zone coverage. Making sure that the puck is out of your own end before you are. I want to work on having more of a defense first mentality.
HF: You must know that you are one of what many people think of as ‘wild cards’ of this draft. What would you like people to know about your personality if you had a chance to speak to them?
AA: There are a lot of things about me out there that people talk about that are 100% false, and I don’t blame them for thinking things because of what they hear, but 99% of what they hear is not true. I would want people to know that I am a pretty respectful kid, and I was raised really well by my parents, so I work hard on and off the ice to improve my game, and I’m a pretty good guy when you get to know me.
HF: Who has been the most influential person in your hockey career?
AA: For sure, my parents. Coming over from the Ukraine, we didn’t have much, being on welfare and stuff like that here. Living in one room in downtown Toronto, and they just did everything for me to be able to play the game. We didn’t have anything and yet they bought me used equipment and borrowed stuff here and there from friends. They never gave up on me. They put in so much effort for me. Everything I accomplish, I owe to them.
HF: Do you think that being a minority has made it harder for you in the game?
AA: I hope not. If people look at me that way, then I can’t help it, but I just want to work hard, play hard, and put points on the board. I would never use race as an excuse for anything, and I really don’t think about it.
HF: How many interviews have you had at the Combine and how have they gone?
AA: A total of 26 interviews in all. I feel that I have done pretty well. A lot of people are surprised because of all the stuff that they have heard about me, but when they actually get to know me, and speak to me one on one, I am not what they thought. More than most here, the interviews have been really helpful for me. I get to see the teams and tell them what has happened over the last few years, from my perspective. It has worked out really well for me.
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