September 20, 2007

More Black Hockey History: Alton White

Earlier this summer it was announced that the CW Network's hit show "Everybody Hates Chris," based on the youth of funnyman Chris Rock, will feature guest star Willie O'Ree.

In the episode entitled "Everybody Hates Gretzky" (air date not yet known to me), Chris (played by Tyler Williams) and his brother Drew (played by Tequan Richmond) ditch school to meet his hockey hero, Wayne Gretzky, when the Edmonton Oilers visit the New York Islanders.

When they realize they are lost, they stop an older gentleman for directions but also get a hockey history lesson.

Of course, the older gentleman is played by Willie O'Ree, who is best known as the first black hockey player in National Hockey League history.

This news story has really drawn a lot of attention to my popular feature from last season, A History Of Black Hockey.

Young Chris Rock will undoubtedly learn that it took another 24 years after O'Ree's breaking of the color barrier before the next black hockey player, Mike Marson, skated in the NHL.

But I wonder if Alton White will get any mention?

As in all things hockey history related in North America, the NHL dominates and the WHA is often dismissed. But the WHA was considered to be big league hockey, and they did sign a black athlete two years before Marson joined the Washington Capitals.

Alton White was born May 31st, 1945 in Amherst, Nova Scotia. That is the same Amherst that has quite the black hockey history and brought Bill Riley to the NHL by 1976.

But White did not learn his hockey until he moved to the cold confines of Winnipeg at the age of 8. His father was falling ill from working at the local foundry, and found work as a sleeping car porter for Canadian National Railroad.

In Winnipeg White grew up playing with and against future NHL stars Pete Stemkowski and Ted Irvine. Under the careful guidance of MJHL Winnipeg Rangers coach Gordie Pennell, White soon too realized he had what it took to play big league hockey.

Alton chased his hockey dreams, toiling in the old IHL with Fort Wayne and Columbus before proving his worth with Providence of the AHL.

"Right now," said White in an interview in 1972, "I look at the NHL rosters and see names like Guy Lapointe, Marc Tardif, Rejean Houle, Don Marcotte, Reg Leach and Ken Dryden." These are people I've played against pretty well. I'm a hustler. A good skater. I'm not really that big so I have to rely mainly on skating and hustling. Compared with the past years, I'm a lot more capable hockey player. I feel I'm a lot better than some guys in the NHL today."

And White had very few complaints about racism at that point in his career.

"Once in a while I hear some wisecracks from people in the stands. But at least they know I'm out there working. I was very well accepted in Providence and haven't had any problems whatsoever. I get along with all the people. The fans treat me exceptionally well."

White's problem in the AHL was he was never affiliated with a NHL team. As a result he never got the big league call up that so many of his teammates did.

"It was tough for me to go up because I was owned by Providence. So, in order for me to go up I'd have had to be sold. I got a little bit down when I saw guys go up when I knew I was a better hockey player."

"But then came the WHA and my big chance."

White played four seasons in the WHA with the New York Raiders, Los Angeles Sharks, and the Michigan Stags/Baltimore Blades. He spent the majority of his final season in the lowly NAHL minor leagues, however.

Now what happened to Alton White following the 1974-75 season is a mystery to me. He definitely quit professional hockey, and may have headed off to Vancouver where he summered and worked for his brother Ken's construction business.

If you have any more information on the career and life of Alton White, let me know at teamcanada72@gmail.com

UPDATE: George Fosty, the leading researcher on the history of Black Hockey, confirms that White is in Vancouver and working in the construction industry today.


garagehero said...

You forget to mention that Alton White was also the first black to score 20 goals in one season in major hockey league, which the WHA was. In the 1972-73 season, he scored 21 goals and had 21 assists. Since the Forum, where the Kings played their games at the time, was a world away from us kids who lived near downtown Los Angeles, me and a bunch of other inner-city kids, some of us minority kids, used to see Alton play for the Sharks at the L.A. Sports Arena. Also, since it cost what seemed to us at the time fortune for a Kings ticket, we could get in to see a Sharks game for just four bucks. We adopted Alton as our hero and cheered him on for the entire time he was in L.A., which unfortunately was only two years. He inspired alot of us to take up street, roller, and later ice hockey. I'm 50 years old right now, but I can still see him in my minds eye, flying down the ice, looking for chance to pass or shoot. I glad he is still remembered, because for many folks, it's like the WHA or its players never existed.

garagehero said...

In a related matter, an Alton White Sharks jersey sold for $6400 at a Lelands auction back in 2004.

Anonymous said...

Alton White finally received a hockey card in the recently-released 1972 - The Year In Hockey set from In The Game. There's also an autograph card for collectors to chase!

Anonymous said...

Great story. Nice to mention Gordie Pennell, a good and fair man who was one of the best coaches ever in Manitoba. He coached many players to the NHL/WHA such as Butch Goring, Chuck Lefley, Steve Patrick and was called the best coach he ever say by longtime player and NHL assistant coach Paul Baxter.

Unknown said...

In 1972 the bruins had a farm club they played the reds i seen alton white i think he wore no 10 at the garden at