Black History Month has been a reminder of the unfortunate past and the awakening to the impact that African Americans have had in the world today. Today TXHT ventures into a series of articles called “A Huge Impact: a review of the impact of nationality on Hockey”. Each article will discuss the unique impact each nationality has had on the game of hockey. Starting with African American Hockey Players.
First African American player to play in the NHL. Most call him the Jackie Robinson of Hockey. O’Ree Started off in the Boston Bruins organization as a winger, where he played 45 games for the Boston Bruins over his career. O’Ree spent his whole career and post-career breaking barriers in Hockey. O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and Ambassador for NHL Diversity since 1998 – Where his impact has become more about making sure everyone gets to play on the ice no matter the barrier. Willie O’Ree was rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
Carter was a special breed of player – a tenacious, hard-hitting, goal scorer who wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the fists. Carter was a breed of players who sometimes dealt with racial slurs at games. But Carter like Willie O’Ree was a player who broke down barriers and showing that a kid no matter the color of your skin, you can do whatever you want – that for Anson Carter was playing hockey.
Iginla was such a talented player and leader. Willing to do anything for his team – the ultimate teammate and captain. On top of hockey, Iginla played baseball and was a catcher on the Canadian national junior team. Iginla says that if it wasn’t for his grandfather he would have never even been able to play hockey – as his father and mother were always working. Iginla grew up admiring other black hockey players – his favorite being Grant Fuhr – which made Iginla start off as a goalie before turning into a right-winger. Iginla impacted hockey not by his skill only but how he carried himself as a person, which was a role model for all players. Iginla is well known for his kind-hearted nature. Former Flames General manager Craig Button called Iginla grounded:
“He doesn’t carry himself with any attitude or arrogance. He’s confident in his abilities. He’s self-assured. He’s genuine. He’s a better person than he is a player, and we all know what kind of player he is.” (Button, 2010)
Iginla always strived to be an example to all, but his heart was to make sure young black kids had a role model. A story is told during the 2002 Winter Olympic in Salt Lake City, Iginla started a conversation with 4 young men from Calgary and found out they were sleeping in their car outside of the hotel. He excused himself and went to book hotel rooms for the young men for the duration they were there on Iginla’s expense.
Iginla is now an ambassador with the NHL Diversity program, which supports youth hockey organizations that offer economically disadvantaged kids the opportunity to play. Since 2008, he has been a hockey spokesperson for Scotiabank, appearing in commercials and at events supporting its grassroots hockey programs.
Widely considered one of the best goalies ever to play the game, if not the best. Fuhr revolutionized the goalie position with his play and being one of the very first black goalies. Fuhr struggled with addictions during his career, He was suspended on occasions but more as punishment. Fuhr helped revolutionize the way addiction would be treated in the NHL. From punishment to help.
“It’s like night and day now because the NHL now will help players, where when I got suspended it was about punishment,” Fuhr said. “It wasn’t about rehabilitating players or helping them get better in life, it was about punishing them. I think the NHL has gone leaps and bounds in getting better at that where they’ve got programs in place now and they actually will help players, and they’ll help players before they get themselves in trouble.” (Fuhr, 2011)
Subban is an interesting character, some people love him others hate him. But that doesn’t change the way Subban has impacted the game. Subban came into the NHL with a bigger than life personality, but there are a few things no one knows about Subban. This is how he impacted the game, Subban greets everyone he meets by name, he takes time to get to know your name and then always makes sure you are called by that. Subban has always leveraged his fame for good. That was proven when he received his first HUGE contract, he donated his whole first year’s salary – $10 million. Subban impacted by bringing swagger to the ice and with his 2-way game, but also by his work off the ice – just like Jarome Iginla. Subban shows that money and fame mean nothing but it’s how you live. Subban spends a lot of his free time with underprivileged children, especially in black communities, helping them with sport and trying to help them have better lives.
These are just a few African American players who have impacted the game of hockey whether on or off the ice. Some of the greatest players to ever step on the ice were African American and there impact on the game will go on for years.