Val James, the NHL’s first African-American player, tells story in new book

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Hockey wasn’t easy for Val James – from picking up the game as a young Long Island Arena rink rat, to literally fighting his way through the minor leagues, to trading punches with some of the toughest enforcers in the National Hockey League.

But for James, the NHL’s first American-born black player, the roughest opponents often weren’t on the ice. They were in the stands.

“Think about going on the ice, 40 games a year on the road, and every three seconds of a 60-minute game, you’re getting a racial slur thrown at you over a 10-year period,” he told me recently.

Val James writes about the bitter and the sweet in his hockey career (Photo/Kwame Damon Mason)

Val James writes about the bitter and the sweet in his hockey career (Photo/Kwame Damon Mason)

James and co-author John Gallagher recount the hostility he endured and the good times the left wing experienced in hockey during the 1970s and 80s in his book, “Black Ice: The Val James Story,” which goes on sale Feb. 1.

He writes honestly about his career as an enforcer – not a goon – whose punching power instilled fear in opponents. He unflinchingly describes the racial abuse he endured during a professional career that spanned from 1978-79 with the Erie Blades of the old North Eastern Hockey League to 1987-88 with the Flint Spirits of the International Hockey League.

“You’d  get  depressed every now and then over it, thinking ‘why are these people doing this, they don’t know me.’ I’m just out to entertain them, to give them a night out with their families, their girlfriends, whoever,” he told  me. “It can  work on your psyche if you let it. I was lucky enough to have a lot of good people around me. My teammates supported me totally.”

James, the NHL's first African-American player, appropriately played for the AHL's Rochester Americans (Photo/Rochester Americans).

James, the NHL’s first African-American player, appropriately played for the AHL’s Rochester Americans (Photo/Rochester Americans).

Canadian-born Willie O’Ree became the NHL’s first black player when he debuted with the Bosoton Bruins in 1958. James, 57, was the league’s first U.S.-born black player and probably the only NHLer born in Ocala, Florida.

A 16th-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 1977, James cracked the Buffalo Sabres’ roster in 1981-82 after signing as an unrestricted free agent. He appeared in seven games for Buffalo that season and found it hard getting a lot of ice time with a Sabres lineup that featured tough guys like defensemen Lindy Ruff and Larry Playfair.

“The top guy was Larry Playfair. He was a heavyweight, I was a heavyweight. So that spot was already filled,” James said. “The second line was Lindy Ruff. They all had multi-year contracts at the time because they never expected a guy like me to come along.”

After five seasons in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans

James enjoyed NHL tours with Buffalo and the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo/Graig Abel).

James enjoyed NHL tours with Buffalo and the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo/Graig Abel).

and the St. Catharines Saints, James returned to the NHL for four games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1986-87.

His NHL career stat line:  No goals, no assists and 30 penalty minutes. But it’s the minor leagues where James had his greatest impact. He played in 630 games, tallied  45 goals, 77 assists and accumulated more than 1,175 penalty minutes – most of them with the AHL Americans.

A lot of those minutes were fives for fighting.

“It was something I was really good at,” James said.

Mike Stothers, head coach of the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs, can attest to that. He and James fought 13 times during a seven-game playoff series when Stothers was a defenseman  for the Hershey Bears and James a winger for the St. Catharines.

“He was  very good, probably one of the toughest at the time in the American Hockey League. He might have been the toughest ever in the American Hockey League,” Stothers told me. “He was a big man, very strong.”

Stothers paid James the highest compliment one enforcer can give another: “He was an honest fighter.”

Mike Stothers fought James 13 times in one AHL playoff series (Photo/Philadelphia Flyers)

Mike Stothers fought James 13 times in one AHL playoff series (Photo/Philadelphia Flyers)

“There was never any extra stuff: no cheap shots or stick work involved,” he  added. “He never took liberties on skilled players.”

But that never stopped  so-called “fans” from taking liberties on James. Objects and racist taunts were routinely thrown his way.

“At that point in time when I was coming up, it was always bananas, pictures of people from Africa with the bone in their nose, spear in their hands, the shields,” James told me. “People would make 8-foot, 9-foot signs like that and display them. At that time, there was no governing of behavior, players or fans, by the leagues.”

It was so bad that when CBS followed James  in 1981 for a segment for “CBS News Sunday Morning,” the public address announcer at the Salem-Roanoke County Civic Center felt compelled to remind game attendees that use of offensive language was prohibited – something he’d never done before.

“Either way, neither the announcement nor the presence of the news cameras could stop the slurs and, as usual, not a single soul got tossed out for playing the racist fool,” James and co-author Gallagher wrote.

But there were times when people took stands against the abuse aimed at James. When two Richmond Rifles fans cast a fishing line with a toy monkey tied to it into the penalty box where James was sitting, referee Patrick Meehan stopped the EHL game and demanded the ejection of the offending fans.

“He did something that could have possibly at that point got him killed or lynched after the game,” James said. “But, nonetheless, he stood up for something, and that means a lot to me.”

Meehan, now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, said he wasn’t trying to make a statement. He just trying to stop something that was “fundamentally wrong.”

“That’s not something that’s ‘fans just being fans.’ That can’t be tolerated,” Meehan

Former hockey referee-turned U.S. Congressman Patrick Meehan threatened to  stop an EHL game to halt abuse aimed at James.

Former hockey referee-turned U.S. Congressman Patrick Meehan threatened to stop an EHL game to halt abuse aimed at James.

told me recently. “I did blow the whistle and skated over to the penalty box and I told (Richmond Rifles officials) that if those fans weren’t ejected from the game, I wouldn’t continue officiating that game and that game would be done.”

“I remember the owner came down and he was like ‘What are you doing?'” Meehan added. “I looked at him and said ‘That’s wrong.’ He said ‘You can’t do it.’ I said ‘Whether I can or can’t, I am because I will not skate in a game that condones that activity, so you make a choice.'”

The fans were ejected and the game went on.

On most nights, James took racial justice in his own hands – taking out his anger at the crowd on an opposing player.

“Since I couldn’t act on my fantasy of shoving a hockey puck down the throat of every big-mouthed racist, one acceptable way for me to respond to these attacks was to turn up my physical play,” James and Gallagher wrote. “If I could knock one of their hometown players into next week, then some of my anger might fade.”

James said he’s pleased to see the growth of players of color in hockey, from youth leagues to the pros.

He thought the sport had put its racial woes behind it until some Boston Bruins “fans” unleashed online racist tirades against Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward for scoring a game-winning overtime goal that eliminated the Bruins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2012 and Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban for scoring a double-overtime game-winning goal against Boston in last season’s  playoffs.

“It  tells me that the state of hockey has advanced but hasn’t advanced, all in the same breath,” he said. “Those Boston incidents, they might be the same relatives of the people that  tried to get me back in the 80s, right?”

African-American youth making a big splash in competitive swimming

Sure, this blog is about ice hockey but every now and then we like to tell and share stores about people of color who are shattering the myth that we don’t participate in this sport or that because it’s “a white man’s game.”

Linked here is an excellent article from The Philadelphia Inquirer about a local African-American youth who’s making waves in the world of competitive swimming. Read it. Enjoy it. And don’t be surprised to see Reece Whitley in the Olympics in the near future.

Fort Dupont’s “Kids on Ice” program gets NBC star treatment

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In life, you crawl before you can walk. In ice hockey, you’ve got to skate before you can play.

For years, the Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Washington, D.C., has helped transform kids from clumsy, crawling novices to confident skaters. Some grow confident enough to take the next step and join the Fort Dupont Cannons, the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program run by longtime Head Coach Neal Henderson.

NBC takes a look at Fort Dupont Ice Arena's Kids on Ice program.

NBC takes a look at Fort Dupont Ice Arena’s Kids on Ice program.

Fort Dupont and its free Learn to Skate program, a magnet for families of all stripes in the District-Maryland-Virginia area, was featured recently in a profile aired during NBC’s telecast of the 2015 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C.

Prudential recently awarded the Kids on Ice $10,000, which will be used to help enhance and expand its synchronized skating program. Part of the funds will be used to send the synchronized team to Hershey, Pa., next month for its first-ever competition.

Fort Dupont skater gives an up-close and personal interview to NBC.

Fort Dupont skater gives an up-close and personal interview to NBC.

From the outside, the Fort Dupont rink doesn’t look like much – a non-descript 1970s-style structure in Southeast Washington. But the rink is one of Washington’s gems. It’s the only indoor skating facility in the District, more often than not has the fastest sheet of ice in he District-Virginia-Maryland area, and offers the most stunning views of Capitol Hill in the city.

Fort Dupont kids go from the  ice to the cameras in NBC feature on the rink's skating program.

Fort Dupont kids go from the ice to the cameras in NBC feature on the rink’s skating program.

One of the few ice rinks in America located in a mostly-minority community, Fort Dupont serves beyond its neighborhood boundaries. Several of the District’s private and Catholic school hockey programs call the rink home, as do several area colleges and universities. Law enforcement hockey teams, from D.C.’s police department to the U.S. Secret Service, have also practiced and played at the rink.

J.R. loves P.K., and thinks Brooklyn would’ve, too

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When former National Hockey League star Jeremy Roenick watches Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban play, he sees himself.

“And it would have been a great image to have me go against P.K. Subban,” Roenick told Greg Wyshynski, editor of Yahoo’s excellent Puck Daddy blog, in a great interview earlier this week. “He resembles me. Reminds me of myself as a young player.”

Make no mistake, Roenick, now an NBC Sports hockey analyst, LOVES Subban –  his game, his attitude, and the entertainment value he brings to the NHL. Several hockey purists complain that Subban is too flashy, too front-and-center both on and off the ice. Roenick, one of hockey’s true characters and showmen, strongly disagrees.

NBC's Jeremy Roenick thinks the NHL needs more entertaining players like Montreal's P.K. Subban and Washington's Alex Ovechkin  (Photo/Chuck Myers).

NBC’s Jeremy Roenick thinks the NHL needs more entertaining players like Montreal’s P.K. Subban and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (Photo/Chuck Myers).

“The NHL does a lot of different things. You’re almost like connected to strings. They want you to act a certain way, they want you to play a certain way, they want you to say certain things,” Roenick told Wyshynski. “Which is good, because I think the NHL has one of the best reputations of any of the other sports.”

He added: “But you need characters. You need (Washington Capitals forward Alexander) Ovechkin, guys like P.K. They bring that out. We just need more of it. And you can be outlandish and still be respectful. The NHL doesn’t like when someone rises above the head count. And guys are really respectful, too. You just have idiots like myself, because we knew it’s an entertainment sport.”

Roenick chided the Canadiens for taking Subban to the brink of arbitration over the summer before signing him to an eight-year, $72 million contract.

“If I was (New York Islanders General Manager) Garth Snow, who had nothing to lose, I would have offered him $10 million and made Montreal match it,” Roenick told Wyshynski. “You’re going into a new building (Brooklyn’s Barclays Center next season). You’re bringing in an ethnic kid that has so much pizzazz. It would have been the greatest thing.”

“P.K. in a Brooklyn jersey!” Roenick added. “It would have sold tickets.”

Can you imagine Subban, Kyle Okposo, and Joshua Ho-Sang, the Islanders’ slick-handed 2014 first-round draft pick, skating on the same shift? Great interview, Greg.

5-4 win over Russia brings Gold Medal to Canada, honors to Darnell Nurse

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Good night, Nurse!

After being snubbed by Hockey Canada last year for a slot on its junior national team, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse achieved a “How You Like Me Now” moment Monday night at the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

Nurse, a 2013 Edmonton Oilers first-round draft pick, was named Canada’s player of the game in Monday night’s 5-4 victory over Russia in the tournament’s Gold Medal game in Toronto.

Defenseman Darnell Nurse has a monster IIHF tournament for Canada (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Defenseman Darnell Nurse has a monster IIHF tournament for Canada (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

In addition, he was named one of Canada’s best three players in the tournament along with Max Domi, a forward for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League and a 2013 Arizona Coyotes first-round draft pick, and Sam Reinhart, a forward for the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice and a 2014 Buffalo Sabres first-rounder.

Monday’s win ended a five-year gold medal drought for Canada at the tourney for players under 20 years old, and the 19-year-old Nurse was a key component in the team winning the gold without a loss.

Monday night represented Mission Accomplished for Nurse. The nephew of retired Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb vowed to make Team Canada after not being named to the 2014 squad, a move that even stunned “Hockey Night in Canada” commentator Don Cherry.

Nurse is captain of the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Nurse is captain of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The 2014 Canadian team finished fourth at the tournament played in Malmo, Sweden, and failed to medal.

“That is an absolute joke not to have Darnell Nurse out there,” the bombastic Cherry

Nurse appeared in two games for Edmonton in 2014-15.

Nurse appeared in two games for Edmonton in 2014-15.

said last year.

As for Nurse, he took the snub and being cut in training camp by Edmonton in 2013 hard. He used those experiences and being sent back to Sault Ste. Marie after playing two games for the Oilers this season as fuel to make Team Canada this year.

“Not being (in Edmonton) opens up opportunities like this, which I have been looking

forward to all year,” he told reporters at Team Canada’s training camp last month. “I am going to develop playing junior and hope to play in this tournament.”

And play he did. Nurse had one goal, no assists, and a plus-minus of +8 in seven games. He also got off 10 shots, several of them missiles fired while rushing the puck up ice.  Opponents didn’t score while he was on the ice.

Apparently, there’s something about playing Russia that brings the best out of the Nurse family. Sarah Nurse, Darnell’s cousin and a forward for the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team, scored a goal for Canada’s National Women’s Development Team in a 5-1 win against Russia Sunday at the 2015 Nation’s Cup tournament in Germany.

A Winter Classic across the pond

Our friend Chris Kibui of Hockeytutorial.com, one of the United Kingdom’s biggest hockey enthusiasts, continues to try to grow the game in a soccer-mad part of the world. The UK Winter Classic wasn’t as large as the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, but don’t tell that to the folks who laced them up on a cold night in Nottingham.

“Hockey is for Everyone” is managing to build good people and good hockey players

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Listen to National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman or anyone else connected with the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative and they’ll tell you that its goal is to build good people over building good hockey players.

“As nice as it would be to have graduates of these programs actually play in college (or the pros), the fact that there are children in these programs who stay in school and go to college is more important than whether or not they’re actually still playing because to me this is about life’s lessons,” Bettman told me in 2011.

But it seems that “Hockey is for Everyone” is doing both. Designed to expose boys and girls from all backgrounds to hockey and use the sport as a tool to encourage them to thrive in school, the more than 30 programs under the “Hockey is for Everyone” umbrella are also doing a pretty decent job of producing players good enough to skate for college hockey teams at all levels – and beyond.

Detroit Hockey Association alum Cameron Burt earned a scholarship to RIT...

Detroit Hockey Association alum Cameron Burt earned a scholarship to RIT…

Over the years, several graduates of “Hockey is for Everyone” programs and its precursor NHL Diversity initiative have made it onto NCAA hockey rosters, college and university club hockey teams, minor league squads, and even to the NHL for a hot minute.

“Hockey’s been good to me,” Cameron Burt, a defenseman for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades told me recently. “It’s gotten me to places I would have never gone.”

Indeed, hockey has taken Burt a long way since the day his mother enrolled him in the Detroit Hockey Association. The instruction and nurturing the program provided helped land him a hockey scholarship at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which in turn helped him embark on a professional career that he hopes will lead to a spot in the NHL.

“It was good for me,” Burt said of his DHA experience. “I still look back at pictures of me playing in early years. It gave us an outlet to do something different. It was something that was ours right there in the city and no one could take it away from us. It was the best place for me to start.”

...which helped launch Burt's pro career. He's a defenseman for the ECHL's Florida Everblades (Photo/Al Larson).

…which helped launch Burt’s pro career. He’s a defenseman for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades (Photo/Al Larson).

Burt has two goals and 15 assists in 22 games for the Everblades this season. He tallied 43 goals and 95 assists in four seasons at Division I Rochester from 2008-09 to 2011-12. The 2009-10 season was especially sweet for Burt because RIT played in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament, held that year in hometown Detroit at Ford Field.

About 173 miles separate Estero, Fla., home of Burt’s Everblades, and Orlando, Fla., the new home of Tarasai Karega, yet the distance in the Sunshine State can’t melt the ties that bind the two hockey players.

Like Burt, Karega got her hockey start with the Detroit Hockey Association, where the the two developed a friendship. Like Burt, hockey provided a collegiate path for Karega.

She attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where she was a standout for the NCAA Division III Lord Jeffs. She was named first team New England Small College Athletic Conference in 2006-07 as a sophomore and notched 61 goals and 51 assists in 110 games during her collegiate career while maintaining a 3.34 grade-point average.

Detroit Hockey Association grad Tarasai Karega, right, earned an NCAA title with Amherst College.

Detroit Hockey Association grad Tarasai Karega, right, earned an NCAA title with Amherst College.

In the 2008-09 season Karega became one of the first black women to win an NCAA hockey title when the Lord Jeffs won the Division III crown.

After college, Karega moved to Philadelphia where she served as hockey operations coordinator for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, a “Hockey is for Everyone” affiliate created by the founder of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Today, she’s a  premium guest services representative for the National Basketball Association’s Orlando Magic. She still keeps up with hockey, attending ECHL Orlando Solar Bears games.

Gerald Coleman’s NHL career was fleeting – 43 minutes over two games in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2005-06 – but significant nonetheless. He was the first NHL Diversity alum to play in the league.

Gerald Coleman played less than an hour over 2 NHL games but his time in goal was historic.

Gerald Coleman played less than an hour over 2 NHL games but his time in goal was historic.

Coleman played in the program in Evanston, Ill., as a teenager while also playing for a AA travel team. Playing AA hockey was more challenging, Coleman said, but the NHL Diversity program provided him with a comfort zone from those who questioned why a 6-foot- five-inch black kid would want to play a predominantly white sport like hockey.

“I felt at home when I was with that group,” Coleman told me recently. “When I was playing with my travel team, I had racial slurs hurled against me from parents, from the kids. They always looked down upon me because I was different from everyone else.”

Coleman’s skill caught the attention of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. After three seasons in net for the major junior hockey team, the Lightning took Coleman in the seventh round with the 224th pick in the 2003 NHL Draft.

Coleman’s NHL stat line is scant – two games, 43 minutes, two goals against, 2.77 goals-against average, .882 save percentage – but he enjoyed a lengthy minor league hockey career. He spent nine seasons stopping pucks for 10 ECHL and American Hockey League teams.

“Even though I didn’t make it in the NHL, at least I made it a lot farther than I could have done in my life,” Coleman said.

Chronic hip problems forced Coleman to retire in August at the age of 29, but his career ended on a high note. He helped guide the Alaska Aces to ECHL’s Kelly Cup. Coleman’s hip pain helped inspire his post-playing career path – to become a physical therapist.

NHL Diversity alum Gerald Coleman finished his hockey career on top - winning the ECHL Kelly Cup in 2013-14.

NHL Diversity alum Gerald Coleman finished his hockey career on top – winning the ECHL Kelly Cup in 2013-14.

“I’m going to start going to school in January and I’m working at a rehab facility in Chicago. Over the last three years with my injuries, I was in  rehab for six months every  summer. I know the ins and outs of it. I know it could lead me back to hockey, if not coaching.”

Coleman, Karega, and Burt say they keep tabs on their old hockey programs and are proud to see “Hockey is for Everyone” alums continuing their progress educationally while keeping their passion for playing the game.

Elmira College hockey player and Fort Dupont alum Donnie Shaw III, left, helps out  at his old rink.

Elmira College hockey player and Fort Dupont alum Donnie Shaw III, left, helps out at his old rink.

Four of Karega’s former charges from Snider Hockey are playing for college teams this season: Elizabeth and Kimberly Feeney on the University of Pennsylvania’s American Collegiate Hockey Association Division III club team; Alivia Bates at NCAA Division III Plymouth State University in New Hampshire; and Saidie Lopez on New Jersey’s Rowan University women’s hockey club.

Sixteen other Snider Hockey alums tried out for college club hockey teams at local Temple University, Drexel University and West Chester University.

Malik Garvin,  a forward who got his hockey start with New York’s Ice Hockey in Harlem, is enjoying his first season playing for Division III Western New England University in Massachusetts.

Devan Abercrombie, a former member of Washington’s Fort Dupont Hockey Club, is a freshman forward for St. Joseph University’s club hockey team in Philadelphia.

He’s attending St. Joe’s on a full four-year ride as a 2014 NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarship recipient. The scholarship is awarded annually to academically-eligible “Hockey is for Everyone” participants.

Donnie Shaw III, another Fort Dupont alum and a 2013 NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarship recipient, is a sophomore at Elmira College in New York and plays for the Soaring Eagles NCAA Division III junior varsity team.

With Winter Classic, IIHF World Junior tourney, holiday hockey heads into overdrive

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This is the best time of year, full of good friends, good food, and great hockey.

The Christmas-New Years’ window is like a bonus round for hockey. Not only is there the usual slate of National Hockey League games to watch but also the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

This year’s outdoor spectacle is in my stomping grounds, Washington, D.C., at Nationals Park baseball stadium, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol building. While the Nation’s Capital’s weather isn’t likely to provide the winter wonderland snow-globe scene that was last year’s outdoor game at massive Michigan Stadium or the frozen tundra feel of the 2008 contest at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, the D.C. event should be picturesque nonetheless.

Forget a White Christmas. The NHL is dreaming of a white 2015 Winter Classic in this artist's rendering.

Forget a White Christmas. The NHL is dreaming of a white 2015 Winter Classic in this artist’s rendering.

And the game should be good. The Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks are two weather-tested teams – the ‘Hawks played the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in 2009 and the Caps skated in a slightly rainy affair against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in 2011. And both are jockeying to improve their positions within their NHL divisions.

Chicago leads the NHL’s Central Division but is looking to create distance for itself from the surprisingly strong second-place Nashville Predators. After a shaky start to the 2014-15 season, the Capitals are tied with the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division and trying to climb the Eastern Conference ladder for better playoff position.

If the Winter Classic and the rest of the NHL schedule isn’t enough to cure your holiday hockey jones, there’s the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

It’s a 10-nation tournament that kicks off Dec. 26 at the Bell Centre in Montreal and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The NHL Network will televise 28 games between Dec. 26 and the Gold Medal game on Jan. 5.

Consider the tournament the holiday Ghost of NHL Future. A healthy number of players in the tournament will likely be chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft. Team Canada’s Connor McDavid, a forward for the Erie Otters on the Ontario Hockey League, is the presumptive No.1 pick at the June 26-27 draft at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

The World Junior teams will also feature several players who are under 20 years old who are alums of the 2014 and 2013 drafts. Three players on Team Canada are graduates of the 2013 draft: Forward Anthony Duclair and defensemen Madison Bowey and Darnell Nurse.

Canada's 2015 IIHF World Junior team. Defenseman Madison Bowey, front row left. Forward Anthony Duclair, back row left, and defenseman Darnell Nurse, back row center (Hockey Canada Images/Matthew Murnaghan)

Canada’s 2015 IIHF World Junior team. Defenseman Madison Bowey, front row left. Forward Anthony Duclair, back row left, and defenseman Darnell Nurse, back row center (Hockey Canada Images/Matthew Murnaghan)

Duclair, a speedy sniper who played for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was a third-round pick of the New York Rangers. He began the 2014-15 season on Broadway, making the NHL as a 19-year-old and earning the nickname “The Duke” from the Madison Square Garden faithful.

Team USA looks to crash Canada's party at IIHF tourney in Montreal and Toronto (Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Team USA looks to crash Canada’s party at IIHF tourney in Montreal and Toronto (Richard Wolowicz/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Bowey, the only right-hand shot on Team Canada’s defense, plays for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. He was drafted in the second round by the Capitals in 2013.

Team Canada defenseman Darnell Nurse (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Team Canada defenseman Darnell Nurse (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Nurse, captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, was the Edmonton Oilers’ first round pick in 2013, the seventh player chosen overall in that draft. Nurse hails from a sports family: his father played in the Canadian Football League, mother played college hoops in Canada, younger sister plays basketball for the University of Connecticut, and a cousin is a standout on the University of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team. He’s also the nephew of retired National Football League star quarterback Donovan McNabb.

If the world junior championship isn’t enough, catch the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Six teams will compete in the world’s oldest invitational hockey tournament beginning Dec. 26: Team Canada, host HC Davos, KHL Medvescak Zagreb of Croatia,  HC Salavant Yulaev Ufa of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, Jokerit Helsinki of Finland, and  Geneve Servette HC of Switzerland, the defending cup champion. Canada’s TSN and TSN2 are broadcasting the tournament live.

Besides seeing some of the most colorful hockey jerseys on the planet – European players are skating billboards with advertising on their jerseys and gear – you’ll see some familiar NHL faces on some of the teams.

Team Canada is coached by Guy Boucher, the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Members of his squad includes former Philadelphia Flyers/Chicago Blackhawks/Phoenix Coyotes/Calgary Flames/San Jose Sharks/Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jim Vandermeer;  former Flyers defenseman Ryan Parent; former New York Islanders/Vancouver Canucks forward Jeff Tambellini; and former Edmonton Oilers forward Marc-Antoine Pouliot.

The Zagreb team features former Flyers and 2013 Team USA goalie Cal Heeter; former Flyers/Buffalo Sabres forward Ville Leino; and former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie prospect Mark Oyuwa.

Several players of color will participate in the tournament including Zagreb’s Oyuwa and forward Edwin Hedberg.

And  if the Spengler Cup doesn’t quench the hockey thirst, head to the rink, lace up the skates, put the gear on, and play yourself.

Team Canada poised to be heavy on talent and diversity at IIHF world junior tourney

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When Team Canada takes to the ice at Montreal’s Bell Centre for the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship Dec. 26, the squad will be heavy on talent. It also may be heavy on diversity.

The Rangers are loaning Anthony Duclair to Team Canada (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

The Rangers are loaning Anthony Duclair to Team Canada (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Four players of color are vying for spots on Team Canada at the team’s selection camp in Toronto – New York Rangers forward Anthony Duclair, Erie Otters forward Nick Baptiste, Kelowna Rockets defenseman Madison Bowey and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse.

Thirty players – two goaltenders, 10 defensemen, and 18 forwards – were invited to the camp for 22 spots on the Canadian team that will compete in the 10-nation tournament with games in Montreal and Toronto.

The tournament is a showcase for talented players from around the world who may find their way to a National Hockey League arena near you in the near future. The four players in Team Canada’s camp share a bond: All were chosen by teams in the 2013 NHL Draft at Newark’s Prudential Center.

The Rangers are loaning Duclair, their 2013 third-round draft pick, to Team Canada. The speedy rookie left wing has 1 goal and 6 assists for the Blue Shirts in 18 games. He scored he scored 50 goals and 49 assists in 59 games in 2013-14 for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“We expect that the team will benefit greatly from the addition of Anthony for both his skill and leadership, and we believe this will be a great experience for Anthony, as he embarks on what we expect will be a long and successful professional and international playing career,” said Scott Salmond, vice president of hockey operations/national teams for Hockey Canada.

Duclair, who averages about 12 minutes a game but has been a healthy scratch in the last three Rangers games, said he was thrilled to be loaned to the Canadian team.

“Very happy, honored to be here,” Duclair told The Toronto Sun. “(Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault) asked me a couple days after the roster came out what my thoughts were and I told him I wanted to be part of this tournament. Being in Canada, being in my hometown of Montreal, I wanted to be part of this.”

Edmonton draftee Darnell Nurse hopes to anchor Canada's defense (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Edmonton draftee Darnell Nurse hopes to anchor Canada’s defense (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013 first-round draft pick, is on a mission to make Team Canada after being snubbed last season. Captain of the Greyhounds, Nurse has 6 goals and 13 assists in 19 games for his OHL team. He played two games for the Oilers this season without collecting a point.

Nurse told reporters in Toronto that he’s improving his game by keeping it simple.

Capitals draftee Madison Bowey (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Capitals draftee Madison Bowey (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

“I’m not putting myself in those situations where I get myself in trouble on the ice and not really helping out my teammates,” he told The Edmonton Sun. “It’s just maintaining that simple-game mindset and going out there and being someone who is hard to play against…I have always had the tools. It’s just finding the way to use them.”

Bowey, a Washington Capitals 2013 second-round draft pick, arrived at the Team Canada camp with a distinct advantage – he’s the only right-handed shot among the 10 blueliners invited to Toronto. He’s also second in scoring among defensemen in the Western Hockey League with 8 goals and 25 assists in 28 games for the Rockets.

He showed off his offensive skills earlier this season when he scored two goals and six assists in three games.

Nick Baptiste, a Buffalo Sabres 2013 draft pick (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Nick Baptiste, a Buffalo Sabres 2013 draft pick (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

If right wing Nick Baptiste makes Team Canada, it will be his third team this season. Baptiste, a Buffalo Sabres third-round pick in 2013, began the 2014-15 season with the OHL Sudbury Wolves and was traded to the Otters in November. He notched 8 goals and 8 assists in 19 games with the two teams.

 

 

Ice Hockey in Harlem gets the perfect holiday gift: the repair and reopening of its home rink

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Ice Hockey in Harlem Thursday will get the best gift that the organization could receive this holiday season: Its home rink back.

New York City’s Parks Department announced Wednesday that Central Park’s Lasker Rink, initially thought to be shut down for most of the winter because a major problem with its refrigeration system, will reopen on Thanksgiving Day.

“We want to sincerely thank everyone within the hockey community who came together on our behalf,” IHIH Executive Director John Sanful said. “It was a positive response, unlike any I’ve personally seen in some time. We are really looking forward to resuming our season again at Lasker Rink.”

The waiting is over! Ice Hockey in Harlem will return to its repaired rink next week.

The waiting is over! Ice Hockey in Harlem will return to its repaired rink next week.

Parks Department officials said all hockey games, practices and skating lessons at the Harlem rink are scheduled to resume on Monday. Since the rink abruptly shut down on Nov. 14, Sanful and IHIH officials have been trying to determine where the program’s 240-plus kids would skate and play during the 2014-15 season.

But IHIH’s worries ended when the parks department, which runs the rink with the Trump Organization and the community, managed to speed up the repairs to the rink’s valves and concrete slab.

“We are thrilled to welcome back Lasker Rink for this winter season,” said New York City Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver. “The rink is a beloved neighborhood destination during the winter months, and it offers a fun and exciting way to stay active and enjoy the cold weather. I applaud all of the NYC Parks employees who worked diligently to make the needed repairs.”
Hockey and Ice Hockey in Harlem return to Lasker Rink next week.

Hockey and Ice Hockey in Harlem return to Lasker Rink next week.

When Lasker’s availability for the season was in doubt, the hockey community in New York and beyond the city limits offered to help IHIH, one of the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey programs.
The New York Rangers said IHIH could use of its practice facility, the MSG Training Center, in Greenburgh, N.Y., and promised to help in shuttle the kids the 28 miles from the city to the suburban rink.
IHIH players can't wait to return to the ice next week.

IHIH players can’t wait to return to the ice next week.

“We cannot thank (Madison Square Garden Company Executive Chairman James) Dolan and (Rangers President and General Manager Glen) Sather enough for their support in our time of need,” Sanful said.
Ice skating rinks in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and even Rhode Island called with offers of ice time or games for IHIH players.
“This clearly demonstrated that Ice Hockey in Harlem has friends and supporters who care about hockey and that children, no matter who they are, should be able to play this beautiful game,” Sanful said.
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