Q&A with Akim Aliu

By Mike Kamrowski

Ontario native and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Akim Aliu is a player known for his intensity. Every game is another chance for him to showcase his talents, and he takes full advantage, going all out and doing whatever it takes to control the game.

Born in Okene, Nigeria, Aliu lived in the Ukraine before moving to Canada at the age of 12. Despite being introduced to hockey at a late age, Aliu has impressed players, coaches, and fans around the OHL – so much so that he was drafted in the second round (56th overall) by Chicago at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

A hugely effective player, Aliu’s blazing speed opens scoring opportunities and his stride through the middle can leave defenders struggling to keep pace.

Aliu didn’t see much ice-time during the 2008-09 season, playing 16 games with London (OHL) before being traded mid-season to the Sudbury Wolves. Aliu previously played with Sudbury during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, so this was a bit of a homecoming for the power forward.

With Sudbury, he saw 29 games, totaling 45 games on the season. Even with so few games, he still managed to rack up 44 points (18g+26a).

At the end of the season Aliu will be looking towards Chicago, and it will be interesting to see if he makes the roster for the start of the 2009-2010 season. Rockford (AHL) is a more likely place, but his skill doesn’t put a Blackhawks roster spot out of the question.

Hockey’s Future had a chance to talk to Akim recently, where he discussed his season and the future.

Q: How would you say the team played this season?
A: It’s been an up and down year. We’ve struggled lately but things will hopefully turn around from here and we’ll see how things go.

Q: Despite not seeing a lot of action, any comment on your play this season?
A: I’ll only have 45 games on the year. But I put up a point a game, so it’s not too bad. I was hoping I’d have more, but it’s been tough. I played 10-15 games and then I was off and then I played 10-15 games and I was off waiting for a trade. It’s just been hard to stay in shape and keep at it – it’s a lot easier to play when you’re at it everyday, but I think the season went alright.

Q: You put up decent numbers this season – to what do you attribute those numbers?
A: I’m an older guy in the league and I’m expected to do better. I was brought in to be a leader on this team and hopefully I can bring it to the playoffs and some good things come out of it.

Q: You were drafted by Chicago last year, what did you work on with them?
A: I was at their camp for a couple weeks and their main camp in September. I worked hard this summer, working out five days a week and did everything I could to get bigger and stronger. I thought I had a pretty good camp and was pretty close to making the team, and hopefully next year I’ll play there.

Q: What is your contact with Chicago like right now?
A: I talk with them all the time, once a week at least. They just want to see how things are going and how I’m handling everything – just in general, as friends.

Q: Does Chicago want you to work on any particulars with your game?
A: They’ve been awesome; they haven’t really told me to work on anything specific. They just said to keep maturing into a better player and work on my all-around skill.

Q: You played two games with Rockford (AHL) last season, what was that like?
A: It’s not even close; the guys are a lot bigger, stronger, and faster. I didn’t really get much ice time there but it was a great experience and it was really nice to see what things are like at the pro level.

Q: How did you like playing in London (OHL) earlier this season?
A: For me, the biggest thing is comfort level. I’m not really worried about how good a team is, for me it’s how comfortable I feel and I feel comfortable with Mike [Foligno] – he’s the best coach I’ve had. He’s an unbelievable person; he understands and listens and he’s really easy to talk to. With London, they didn’t really have the biggest open-door policy and I didn’t really get along with them. I’m definitely having more fun here.

Q: What do you bring to Sudbury?
A: I’m just coming in here and trying to play an all around game to help the team win.

Q: How would you fit in with Chicago?
A: In the preseason games that I played in, I played on the left side and I guess that’s a weakness they have right now. But when I get there, whatever opportunity they give me I’m going to make the best of.

Q: What part of your game are you going to work on over the summer?
A: The same thing I’ve been trying to work on since I was 16-years-old and I got into this league – getting bigger and stronger and doing everything I can to make that lineup next year.

Q: You play with an incomparable level of intensity, any comment on that?
A: I’m a type of player that if I’m not playing all-out intensity, in peoples face, hitting guys – I think when I play that type of game, my skill comes out because I’m really into it. If I didn’t play like that then I wouldn’t be as effective on the ice.