Aliu's saga continues

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Akim Aliu is already on his way to the Windy City.

But the Chicago Blackhawks training camp doesn't start for another eight days.

The 19-year-old London forward, already sent home from the Knights camp once after loafing during a drill, didn't skate with the OHL team at the John Labatt Centre yesterday and has been assigned to an NHL training camp the Blackhawks have announced won't begin until next Friday.

London general manager Mark Hunter claimed Aliu wasn't kicked out of camp again, saying this latest move has nothing to do with discipline.

The Knights don't expect Aliu back -- if the signed Blackhawks' 2007 second-rounder returns at all -- until the OHL regular season is in progress.

"It was a mutual decision," Hunter said. "Lots of guys go to NHL camp early. It depends on the individual. For some, it's better they go early and take some time to get settled.

"I heard that (Josh) Unice (Kitchener's goalie and a Hawks prospect) was leaving the Rangers camp to go to Chicago early, too."

London's Justin Taylor and NHL first-rounder John Carlson, both Washington prospects, haven't left for that camp yet. They're still practising with the Knights.

Edmonton Oiler Sam Gagner is still skating in London. So is Oiler hopeful Rob Schremp and Detroit Red Wing defenceman Kyle Quincey, who lofted the Stanley Cup in June.

Sean O'Connor, a Knights over-ager last year, is heading to Norfolk, Va., to try out as a forward for the American Hockey League Admirals -- the farm team of the Tampa Bay Lightning. His date to report to camp is Sept. 20.

In a release on Tuesday, the Blackhawks said they plan to officially kick off their 2008-09 training camp with a media day on Friday, Sept. 19.

The first on-ice workout is Sept. 20 at the United Center.

Last week, Aliu said he was due in Chicago on Sept. 18 and didn't know if he'd be able to play in the OHL season opener next Wednesday in Saginaw. He won't play tomorrow or Saturday against Plymouth.

Aliu has been in one of four exhibition games -- a 6-5 win over Erie last Friday --and was the best player on the ice.

The six-foot-three, 219-pound Aliu scored two goals, including a short-handed breakaway effort, and dominated physically in the win over Erie.

That performance came after he returned to camp from two days away to "get his head straight." Aliu also encountered discipline problems when he was with the Windsor Spitfires and Sudbury Wolves.

According to assistant Pat Curcio, the Knights provide an ice-time opportunity many NHL-drafted players take advantage of before departing to pro camps.

"He's going to Chicago and I know he's excited about it," Mark Hunter said. "When he's there, he should focus on that. When he comes back, we want him to have his head into being a London Knight.

"That's where we're at with it right now."

While Aliu is heading to his NHL camp extremely early, it appears ailing Knight Phil McRae, a St. Louis second-rounder, will miss his first shot with his hometown Blues.

Despite being diagnosed with mononucleosis two weeks ago, the 18-year-old forward is back skating on his own. His target return date is early October.

"He's been tested and he's not contagious anymore and that means he can be around the guys again," Curcio said. "It will be a positive thing for us if he's able to return quickly and we know he's working hard towards that goal."

Aliu is gone, but highly regarded rookie forward Jared Knight will play his first game for London tomorrow night against the Whalers at 7:30 p.m. at the JLC.

Through the OHL office, the Knights secured the 16-year-old Battle Creek, Mich., native's release from USA Hockey through an appeal process that required Hockey Canada's involvement.

"I'm relieved it's over and I'm able to play now," said the 2008 third-rounder from the Detroit Compuware program, who had previously committed to the U.S. national team development program in Ann Arbor, Mich. "I got to skate and practise (twice a day) but it was tough sitting and watching the team in four games and not being able to be a part of it. I have a lot of family who will be here. My parents bought an apartment (in London) so they'll be able to see me play a lot this year."

But Knight, who worked out at Dave Gagner's Power Play training centre at Western Fair this summer, is still living with a billet family -- Bob and Lynda Martin, who have housed both Adam and Corey Perry.

"I'm sleeping in the same bed A.J. and Corey did when they were here, so that's pretty cool."

The Knights are still waiting on the release for import forward Sergei Korostin, a Dallas Stars prospect expected to be here next week. He can't play until the go-ahead comes from the Russian federation through the International Ice Hockey Federation.


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