Traditionally there have been very few blacks in hockey and in the National Hockey League.
Why is this? Traditionally NHL players came strictly from Canada, with European countries becoming more and more prevalent. All these countries, particularly Canada, have tiny black populations. The United States, which produces some of the best black athletes in the entire world, is traditionally not a hockey hotbed. Black athletes in the US also lack role models in hockey, and naturally focus their attention on sports which do, such as baseball, football, basketball, track and field and boxing, all of which offered better infrastructures.
Believe it or not though, blacks have a history in hockey dating back as long as hockey itself. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, there was a black hockey league. The league, which started as an informal game among African settlers in Nova Scotia, grew into the colored league, of sorts. It was not an officially sanctioned league of any kind but an assembling of devoted black hockey enthusiasts providing entertaining games to a predominantly white audience of nearly 1,500 spectators.
One of the earliest blacks in the sport of hockey was Hipple "Hippo" Galloway. Better known as a barnstorming baseball player, Galloway was a star player on his hometown Woodstock entry on the Central Ontario Hockey Association, as well as the local baseball team. Galloway left his hometown in 1899 after an American import on the baseball team objected to his inclusion on the team. A local sportswriter cried: "An effort should be made to keep Hippo in town. Our hockey team needs him." Hippo Galloway is a chartered member of the Black Hockey Hall of Fame.
In the late forties, there was the legendary Herb Carnegie. Carnegie was a star in the Quebec Senior Hockey League, impressing many including that circuit's biggest star Jean Beliveau. Carnegie was the key member of the Black Aces line, featuring his brother, Ossie, and Manny McIntyre. Those who saw Carnegie play describe him as one of the fastest and most skilled players ever. Both Beliveau and Frank Mahovlich have been outspoken advocates about Carnegie's greatness.
Carnegie should have been the first in the NHL had it not been for the alleged prejudice of the day. Unlike football, baseball or basketball, the NHL never had an official policy banning blacks from playing. But suspicions were always around about an unofficial policy, especially when Toronto Maple Leaf owner Conn Smythe is said to have said, "I'll give any man $10,000 who can make Herb Carnegie white." While Herbie Carnegie never made it to the NHL, his legend in Canadian hockey lore too has grown.
In fairness, Carnegie would get a shot at the NHL late in his career. The New York Rangers gave him a training camp tryout, and offered him a contract but they wanted him to apprentice a year in the minor leagues. Carnegie turned down the contract and returned home to his young family in Quebec where he actually earned more money than he would have in the NHL.
It was not until January 18, 1958 when Willie O'Ree took to the ice for the Boston Bruins in a game against the Montreal Canadians that a black man would debut in the NHL. By doing so O'Ree ensured himself a place in hockey history as the "Jackie Robinson of hockey."
"They've called me the Jackie Robinson of hockey, and I'm aware of being the first, and of the responsibilities, but I'm also aware that there have not been, and are not many colored players able to play hockey, that there has never been the discrimination in this game there was in baseball, and that I didn't face any of the very real problems Robinson had to face."The only other black in professional hockey at the time was Art Dorrington, a career minor leaguer whose shot at the NHL never came due to a broken leg. The minor leaguer in the New York Rangers system also played baseball in the Boston Braves organization.
Hockey would have to wait another 15 years before seeing another black perform on the NHL ice. In the seventies came Mike Marson and Bill Riley of the Washington Capitals. Marson in particular faced a real tough time with racist remarks and actions.
It should be noted though that Alton White pre-dated Marson and Riley when he signed with the WHA. The former Providence Reds AHL star never had an opportunity to sign with a NHL team.
Tony McKegney, with nearly 350 NHL regular season and playoff goals, including a 40-goal season in 1987-88 with the St. Louis Blues, was the first bona fide star of African-Canadian background. Born in Montreal, he was adopted by a family in Sarnia at the age of one. "Sometimes I would wonder why I was trying to be a pro player when there were none to look up to. I'm proud of the fact that I was the first Black to establish myself in the NHL. Now there are a few. I hope that helps youngsters who need someone to emulate." He would serve as a role model for the many blacks to follow,
including Jarome Iginla, probably the greatest black player to date.
including Jarome Iginla, probably the greatest black player to date.
Not far behind McKegney was Grant Fuhr. Perhaps because he was wearing a mask or perhaps because he was overshadowed by teammates such as Gretzky and Messier, not everyone seems to realize Fuhr is black. Fuhr backstopped the Oilers dynasty to 4 Stanley Cups, and became the first and only black inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the first to have his name inducted on the Stanley Cup.
More and more blacks are now picking up sticks and strapping skates. The NHL has created a diversity program to get hockey into the grassroots levels of non-traditional cultures, namely black and Hispanic areas of the United States. The program has been greatly received, and has even produced its first NHL graduate - goaltender Gerald Coleman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
These kids all have role models to look up to, too, nowadays. In addition to Carnegie, O'Ree, McKegney and Fuhr, there are active black superstars such as Iginla, Anson Carter, Mike Grier, Georges Laraque, Kevin Weekes, Ray Emery and Trevor Daley. For a complete listing of all 52 black players in National Hockey League history, see below:
There have been 52 black hockey players to play in the National Hockey League. In chronological order, they are:
1. Willie O'Ree, 1958 - Legally blind in one eye, perhaps explaining why this speedball missed the net so often.
2. Mike Marson, 1974 - True tough guy, couldn't handle to realities of racism down in the United States.
3. Bill Riley, 1976 - Was working as a welder in an aluminum plant in northern British Columbia when the Capitals gave him a tryout.
4. Tony McKegney, 1978 - The first top line black NHLer, McKegney was a solid scoring threat everywhere he played.
5. Bernie Saunders, 1979 - He only played in 10 games. His brother is John Saunders, studio host and play by play commentator for ESPN.com.
6. Ray Neufeld, 1980 - Really struggled after being traded from Hartford to Winnipeg. In Hartford he was utilized as a scorer along side Ron Francis. In Winnipeg he was miscast as a power forward, but remained a productive forward despite his critics. The pressure of being traded for Dave Babych also weighed heavily on him.
7. Grant Fuhr, 1981 - Needs no introduction. The first black to have his name on the Stanley Cup and to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Integral member of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers.
8. Valmore James, 1981 - Born in Ocala, Florida and growing up on Long Island, New York, James was the first African American to play in the National Hockey League.
9. Brian Johnson, 1983 - A free agent signing out of the Quebec League, Johnson only played in 3 NHL games.
10. Dirk Graham, 1984 - A real hustler, Graham was a tremendous two way player who won the Selke trophy as the league's best defensive forward.
11. Darren Lowe, 1984 - 1984 Olympian played 8 games with the Pens. Later coached at the University of Toronto.
12. Eldon "Pokey" Reddick, 1986 - Goaltending sensation took the NHL by storm with both his name and his spectacular goaltending.
13. Steve Fletcher, 1987 - Minor league tough guy debuted in the playoffs.
14. Claude Vilgrain, 1987 - The only NHLer born in Haiti, though he grew up in Montreal.
15. Paul Jerrard, 1988 - Scrappy defenseman got 5 game audition with Minnesota North Stars in 1988-89. He had a lengthy minor league career. Now coaching in the AHL, he is the subject of ESPN.com's Scott Burnside's piece Hockey's Quiet Pioneer.
16. Mike McHugh, 1988 - A graduate of the University of Maine, McHugh joined Jerrard in North Stars system before being transfered to the expansion San Jose Sharks.
17. Graeme Townshend, 1989 - The only NHLer born in Jamaica, he studied at RPI before turning professional. He is now a scout with the San Jose Sharks.
18. Reggie Savage, 1991 - A real sniper in junior and in the minors, he could never find the twine at the NHL level.
19. Dale Craigwell, 1991 - A real intelligent player, Craigwell got long looks in junior while centering the Oshawa Generals second line behind Eric Lindros.
20. Darren Banks, 1992 - Minor league tough guy relied on his fists for his NHL cup of coffee.
21. Donald Brashear, 1993 - Veteran NHL tough guy now protects Alexander Ovechkin
22. Sandy McCarthy, 1993 - Part Black, Part Native, Pure tough guy.
23. Fred Brathwaite, 1994 - A serviceable NHL goalie.
24. Craig Martin, 1994 - Born in Amherst, N.S., same hometown as Bill Riley.
25. Joaquin Gage, 1994 - Edmonton Oiler farm hand now plays in Europe.
26. Jason Doig, 1995 - Physical defenseman didn't have the skating or puck skills to play in the NHL.
27. Jarome Iginla, 1996 - One of the top 10 players in the National Hockey League.
28. Anson Carter, 1996 - Team Canada hero has bounced around the league a bit. His hair is unmistakable.
29. Jamal Mayers, 1996 - A real solid, physical third liner.
30. Mike Grier, 1996 - A linebacker on skates.
31. Rumun Ndur, 1996 - The only black NHLer born in Africa, born in Nigeria. His family immigrated to Sarnia, Ontario, but only after finding too many diplomatic road blocks to their first choice, Texas. This naturally gifted athlete likely could have been a NFL star, but growing up in Canada he chose hockey. He is playing this season in England.
32. Sean Brown, 1996 - With a career much like Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, it is only fitting both of them have found a home this season on the blue line of DEG Metro Stars (German Elite League)
33. Kevin Weekes, 1997 - Though he has struggled with consistency, this incredibly athletic goaltender has proven to be a NHL quality netminder.
34. Peter Worrell, 1997 - As a tough guy, Worrell was down right scary. As a hockey player, he lacked most skills.
35. Georges Laraque, 1997 - The most dominant enforcer since Bob Probert.
36. Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, 1998 - Aggressive defenseman lacked polish, but played 269 NHL games. Has continued to play in Europe post NHL lock-out.
37. Tyrone Garner, 1998 - Goalie turned forward this season.
38. Francis Bouillion, 1999 - Undersized defenseman adds nice spunk to Montreal's blue line.
40. Bryce Salvador, 2000 - Throw back defenseman has struggled in the new NHL, but has carved out a nice career clinging to a 5 or 6 spot on the St. Louis blue line.
41. Nathan Robinson, 2003 - Wanna know a secret? I've never heard of the 7 game NHL veteran before compiling this list.
42. Trevor Daley, 2003 - Undersized defenseman was reluctantly in the news following a racial incident with junior coach and former NHL goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck.
43. Ray Emery, 2003 - Can he lead the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup?
44. Sean McMorrow, 2003 - Tough guy called up for single game in Buffalo.
45. Greg Mauldin, 2003 - Long shot got a try out with the Blue Jackets late in 2003-04.
46. Anthony Stewart, 2005 - Tagged as potential star power forward, Stewart has been slow to develop in Florida.
47. Dustin Byfulagin, 2005 - Big man struggling to stick in the NHL.
48. Gerald Coleman, 2006 - First graduate of NHL's diversity program.
49. Joel Ward, 2006 - Made his NHL debut in 2006-07.
50. Johnny Oduya, 2006 - Born and raised in Sweden to a Kenyan father.
51. Shawn Belle, 2006 - One of the best pure skaters anywhere.
52. Nigel Dawes, 2006 - Junior star might be too small to stick in NHL.
Special thanks to George Fosty for this research. Check out Fosty's Black Ice Project. Brother and co-author Darril Fosty also provides the following amazing YouTube Video: