When a city receives an expansion team, that immediately drives anticipation for a new pro sports presence and interest for an expected intraregional rivalry. It’s a perfect time for the professional sports league to come into town and speak to the city’s audience.
The new NHL Seattle Kraken ice hockey team will begin play in the 2021-2022 season, and regional bragging rights will begin immediately with an immediate regional rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, not unlike the decades-old soccer rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps (which I first witnessed in the 1970s in the old original NASL).
But the following questions remain timely: For whom is ice hockey? What is the relationship between the sport and people of colour? What is the history of black people in professional hockey? I hope the following sheds a little bit of light on black hockey history.
NHL Black Hockey History Mobile Museum
In early 2020, a travelling museum exhibition highlighted how black Canadians, black Americans, and their respective communities have made important contributions to the winter sport of ice hockey at both amateur and professional levels. Presented in conjunction with the American Legacy Network, the NHL Black Hockey History mobile museum made its way throughout North America, stopping in 14 cities: Washington, DC; Detroit, MI; St. Louis, MO; Pittsburgh, PA; Ottawa, ON; Toronto, ON; Newark, NJ; Nashville, TN; Anaheim, CA; Los Angeles, CA; San Jose, CA; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and Tempe, AZ.
In a continuation of activities associated with Black History Month, Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president, wrote about what Black History Month meant to her, and what players of colour past and present have meant to the game of hockey (28 Feb 2020).
Trailblazers: O’Ree & Carnegie
Willie O’Ree is one of the most important people in hockey history. Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 1935, O’Ree broke the colour barrier in professional hockey on 18 January 1958, when he became the first black player in an NHL game when he skated onto the ice in Montreal as a visiting Boston Bruins player. O’Ree played professional hockey for 21 years, although his time in the NHL was relatively brief. In 1998, the NHL hired O’Ree as the first Diversity Ambasssador. In 2018, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) in the Builder category; O’Ree was the 3rd black athlete inducted into the HHOF, after Grant Fuhr and Angela James.
As one of Canada’s top amateur hockey players in the 1940s and 1950s, Herb Carnegie was a part of the first all-black (forward) line in semi-professional hockey, known as “The Black Aces,” along with brothers Ossie and Manny McIntyre: this was in Timmins for the town’s hockey team Buffalo Ankerites in 1941. Carnegie is considered the finest black hockey player never to have played in the NHL. After retirement in 1954, Carnegie founded a year later the first registered hockey school in Canada, the Future Aces Hockey School, and wrote the sports manifesto Future Aces Creed Philosophy.
More trailblazers for black hockey
As a kid and teenager in Vancouver in the 1980s, I remained hopeful for the city’s professional hockey team, the Canucks. But occupying a place in the same division as the mighty and dynastic Edmonton Oilers meant the Canucks were often a punching bag for the Oilers’ players to pad out their stats numbers. Like many followers of hockey at the time, that also meant we witnessed the true shock and awe of that Albertan powerhouse, including history made by their goaltender.
Born and raised near Edmonton, Alberta, Grant Fuhr made history when he stepped onto the ice for the first time on 14 October 1981. He was the 1st black goaltender to play in the NHL; he would become the 1st black player to win a Stanley Cup championship (1984 with Edmonton), the 1st black player to win an NHL end-of-season award (1987-88), and the 1st black player to win the Vezina award for best goaltender (1987-88). Fuhr was part of 5 Stanley Cup victories with the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990.
Shortly after his 2000 retirement, Fuhr became the the first black player inducted into the HHOF (2003 class).
• Dirk Graham: 1st black captain in NHL (Chicago Blackhawks, 1988-1995); 1st black head-coach in NHL (Chicago Blackhawks, 1998-1999).
• Jarome “Iggy” Iginla: primary assist on Sidney Crosby’s “golden goal” for Canada at 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics; scored twice in Canada’s gold medal win at 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. 2020 HHOF class; 4th black player inducted after Fuhr, James, and O’Ree.
• Angela James: 1st superstar of modern women’s hockey, the “Wayne Gretzky” of modern women’s hockey, and former Canadian women’s national team captain. James along with American Cammie Granato were the first women inducted into the HHOF (2010 class). James is the 1st black woman and 2nd black player inducted into the HHOF.
• Val James: 1st black American player in NHL when he played for Buffalo in 1981.
• Mike Marson: 14 years after O’Ree broke the colour barrier in professional hockey, Marson became the 2nd black player to play in the NHL in 1972.
• Tony McKegney: 1st black player in NHL to score at least 40 goals in a season (1987-1988).
• Jay Sharrers: 1st black on-ice NHL official as linesman; later would become 1st black referee in NHL game.
Soul on Ice
With the NHL mobile museum parked outside, on show inside the adjacent Northwest African American Museum was Damon Kwame Mason’s documentary film “Soul On Ice: Past, Present, and Future,” which tells the history of black hockey and the history of black players in the NHL. I highly recommend the film as a ‘must-see’, for any fan or student of sports, history, black and sports history, and Canadian culture. The following clickable video from TV Ontario includes an excerpt of the film and an interview with Mason.
Black players in HHOF
• Willie O’Ree, Angela James, & Grant Fuhr: NHL Roundtable with Anson Carter.
• Angela James (Canada) & Cammie Granato (USA): the first two women players inducted into the HHOF in 2010.
• Willie O’Ree speech, HHOF induction in 2018.
• O’Ree on continued racism in sports: CBC Sports, 3 Feb 2020.
• Grant Fuhr, in Las Vegas for the documentary “Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story”.
• Jarome Iginla, 4th black player inducted into the HHOF (TSN Sports).
For the Seattle public
I made all images above with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime on 7 Mar 2020. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-hSB.