Ice Bucket Challenge a real challenge for Old Spice Guy


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Whether he’s promoting Secret deodorant or his trusty brand, Isaiah Mustafa – aka the Old Spice Guy from the hilarious TV commercials – can’t let an ounce of wetness touch his perfectly chiseled man-hide, even if its’s for a good cause like the Ice Bucket Challenge to combat ALS. But he’s always willing to try.

“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” hates sweat but loves ice hockey and discussed his passion for the sport last November with the Color of Hockey.

"Old Spice Guy" Isaiah Mustafa rarely leaves home without his hockey stick.

“Old Spice Guy” Isaiah Mustafa rarely leaves home without his hockey stick.


When darkness fails – EA Sports fades St. Louis Blues’ Ryan Reaves too black in game



Ryan Reaves

Ryan Reaves

As an on-ice enforcer who tangles with some of the National Hockey League’s best fighters, St. Louis Blues forward Ryan Reaves is used to being a little black and blue after a tough game.

But one can excuse Reaves for being red hot miffed at EA Sports  for digitally making him waaaayyy too black in its NHL video game.

The real Ryan Reaves, left, and EA Sports' digital version of the rugged right wing.

The real Ryan Reaves, left, and EA Sports’ digital version of the rugged right wing.

Adventures – or misadventures – in pigmentation aren’t unusual in the media world. Time Magazine faced an avalanche of criticism when it darkened the facial features of then-murder suspect O.J. Simpson on its June 27, 1994 cover.

And Lifetime’s made-for-TV biopic about the late R&B singer/dancer Aaliyah has been slogging through controversy from the moment its producers initially cast an actress who many Aaliyah fans deemed too light-skinned to play the lead role.

However, the ghosts of colorations past probably mean little to Reaves, who’s dealing with the here and now. He made his displeasure with EA’s digital version of him known in one succinct tweet.

You’d think the folks at EA wouldn’t want to get on Reaves’ bad side. He’s the Blues’ designated hitter – with his body and his fists. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native tallied only 2 goals and 6 assists in 63 games for St. Louis last season. While Reaves finished 546th in the league in scoring in 2013-14, he was 12th in the league in penalty minutes with 126.

Reaves has been hearing it from teammates and friends in the NHL about his dark digital alter ego. Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, ever the eagle eye, tweeted that he noticed something different between the real Reaves and the EA one.

“I know eh…wrong jersey…,” Elliott wrote.



Jamaica begins its skate toward a national ice hockey team; Winter Olympics soon come?


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At the end of the two days, the head coach who had no idea about exactly what he’d gotten himself into sounded pumped.

“The talent level is off the charts,” Graeme Townshend, head coach of the under-construction Jamaican national ice hockey program proclaimed Sunday. “We have a lot of talented kids at our disposal. There are some good players up here, obviously, but I didn’t expect them to be as good as they are.”

The Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation took its first on-ice strides toward building an Olympics-worthy national team with a two-day tryout at a suburban Toronto rink over the weekend under the watchful eyes of Townshend, a former Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators forward who was the National Hockey League’s first Jamaican-born player, and Cyril Bollers, president and coach of Skillz Hockey.

And so it begins. Participants in Jamaica's first-ever ice hockey effort pose for history.

And so it begins. Participants in Jamaica’s first-ever ice hockey effort pose for history.

About 18 skaters – from as far away as Sweden and Washington, D.C., and as nearby as Scarborough, Ont., and Quebec – ventured to the Westwood Arena in Etobicoke, donned practice jerseys with Jamaica’s yellow, black, and green flag on the front, and showed Townshend, Bollers, and the rest of the JOIHF brain trust what they could do. Twenty-five players showed up for Sunday’s sessions. The tryout participants ranged in age from 15 to 28, Townshend told me.

“As the word got around, more and more kids started to find us, I guess,” he added.

The prospect of representing his mother’s homeland is what prompted 17-year-old forward David Southwells to travel to North America for the first time from his family’s current home in Tingsryd, Sweden, birthplace of former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kjell Samuelsson.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Southwells told me. “It would mean a huge amount, especially to my family because of our heritage.”

Hockey Coach Graeme Townshend (center) liked what he saw during Jamaica's first-ever ice hockey tryout.

Hockey Coach Graeme Townshend (center) liked what he saw during Jamaica’s first-ever ice hockey tryout.

Washington’s Duante Abercrombie learned about the Jamaica tryout via Instagram about a week ago. An alum of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the oldest minority youth hockey program in the United States, Abercrombie happened to be in Whitby, Ont., training for a potential tryout with the Dayton Demonz of the Federal Hockey League when he got the message.

The trip from Whitby to Toronto was a short train ride for Abercrombie, one that also spurred a family reunion in search of his Jamaican roots.

“I didn’t speak to my dad when I was a child, and my mom (Devara Abercrombie)  always said my dad had Jamaican (in him)  but she didn’t know where it went because they didn’t speak. I was three months old when they separated,” Abercrombie told me. “I didn’t speak to him until I was 18 years old, and maybe just three times. The only other time I spoke to him was this past week when I let him know that he officially needs to find (his Jamaican) descendants and other stuff.”

That conversation led to more talk and a warm catching up between Abercrombie and his father, Michael Armstead.

“He was so excited. He’s kept up with everything that I’ve done,” Duante Abercrombie told me. “This weekend wasn’t just a great weekend for hockey, it also gave me an opportunity to connect with my dad.  It was really a powerful, powerful weekend. I just didn’t get a hockey blessing, I got a family blessing out of it, too.”

Abercrombie is only 28 but consider him a hockey lifer. After playing for Fort Dupont Head Coach Neal Henderson and winning a Washington, D.C., hockey championship with Gonzaga High School, Abercrombie set his sights on reaching the pro ranks.

His quest took him to New Zealand in 2011-12 to play for the West Auckland Admirals of the New Zealand Ice Hockey League. Since then, he’s been preparing for his chance, perpetually training on and off the ice should a team come calling.

The closest he’s gotten to the NHL was practicing with Washington Capitals players Mike Green, John Carlson, and Nicklas Backstrom at the team’s Kettler Capitals Iceplex facility in Arlington, Va., during the weeks of the 2012 NHL players lockout.

If Townshend and the JOIHF officials can find more players with Abercrombie’s desire and hockey pedigree, the fledgling program will be off to a good start.

The weekend’s tryout was the first of several to be held in Canada and the U.S. When Jamaica gained associate membership in the International Ice Hockey Federation in 2012, JOIHF officials boldly stated that their goal was to have a team on the ice at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Skillz Hockey's Cyril Bollers (left) provided his coaching expertise to the Jamaican hockey effort.

Skillz Hockey’s Cyril Bollers (left) provided his coaching expertise to the Jamaican hockey effort.

But JOIHF officials have since slowed their roll on 2018, acknowledging that they have a lot of work to do on and off the ice before even thinking about the next two or three Winter Games.

“It’s premature to shoot for 2018,” Townshend told me. “Logistically, it would be monumental. We’d have to work our way through the different divisions of the IIHF. We don’t have a rink in Jamaica yet, we have to wait until that’s done. There’s a first step in that process, getting funding for that rink.”

“We have to do it right, cross the T’s and dot the I’s. We have to satisfy the International Ice Hockey Federation’s guidelines.” he continued. “My job is to just keep plugging away and try to get us into competition outside of the International Ice Hockey Federation jurisdiction and just get the word out there, start getting more attention to the program, and once we do that I think the funding will come.”

A special Color of Hockey thanks to Damon Kwame Mason, Producer of “Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future,” for shooting and sharing photos from the tryout. To learn more about his documentary project, please visit and











Josh Ho-Sang hangs with Skillz Black Aces


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New York Islanders 2014 first round draft pick Joshua Ho-Sang returned to his roots this week to provide some on-ice inspiration and motivation to the Skillz Black Aces, a youth hockey team that he played for over four summers.

Ho-Sang, a high-scoring forward for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, has called playing for Coach Cyril Bollers’ predominantly-minority squad “probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

N.Y. Islanders draft pick Joshua Ho-Sang (second to the left, second row) with Skillz Black Aces members. The finely-locked gentleman on the second row far right is dad Wayne Ho-Sang. Coach C.J. Bollers stands second row, far left.

N.Y. Islanders draft pick Joshua Ho-Sang (second to the left, second row) with Skillz Black Aces members. The finely-locked gentleman on the second row far right is dad Wayne Ho-Sang. Coach C.J. Bollers stands second row, far left.

Skillz is increasingly becoming a stepping stone to the National Hockey League Draft. Ho-Sang, the 28th overall pick, Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux, a 2014 second-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Portland Winterhawks forward Keegan Iverson, the New York Rangers third-round selection, and Owen Sound Attack forward Jaden Lindo, a fourth-round choice of the Pittsburgh Penguins, are all alums of Skillz summer hockey teams.

So are Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013  first-round pick; Kitchener Rangers forward Justin Bailey, a Buffalo Sabres second-round pick; forward Stephen Harper of the Erie Otters; and Bellville Bulls defenseman Jordan Subban, the Vancouver Canucks’ fourth-round pick and the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban.



L.A. Kings’ Jordan Nolan, Garden River First Nation, enjoy a day with Lord Stanley

What a season for Los Angeles Kings center Jordan Nolan and his family.

In the flash of Kings defenseman Alec Martinez’ double-overtime, series-winning goal that vanquished the New York Rangers in June, Nolan became a Stanley Cup winner for the second time in three seasons.

Kings' Jordan Nolan shared the Cup with his family and his tribe (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Kings’ Jordan Nolan shared the Cup with his family and his tribe (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Earlier this season, his dad, Ted Nolan, returned from the hockey wilderness to become head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, the team that fired him after the 1996-97 season. And while most National Hockey League coaches not named Mike Babcock were at  home during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Ted Nolan was busy in Sochi coaching Latvia’s national team.

Babcock’s Canadian team took home the Gold Medal, but only after squeaking out a nervous 2-1 quarterfinals victory against Nolan’s Latvian squad. And who knows what might have been had Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis not worn down under the barrage of 57 Canadian shots.

So Jordan Nolan’s day last week with the Stanley Cup was indeed a celebration – for the family and for the Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The Nolans are proud Ojibwe who say their heritage is as much a part of them as hockey is part of Canada’s national fabric.

“I’m definitely excited to bring the Cup back to Garden and share it with family, friends, and fans,” Jordan Nolan told in June. “It’s pretty cool to do it again. I wasn’t expecting this halfway through the season.”

Jordan Nolan appeared in 64 regular season games for the Kings last season. He registered 6 goals, 4, assists and 54 penalty minutes. He played in three playoff games last season and was held scoreless.

Hockey Hall of Fame’s Phil Pritchard, who travels with the Cup all summer as it goes to each member of the Kings’ roster and coaching staff for a day, was kind enough to share photos of Jordan Nolan’s day with Lord Stanley.

Los Angeles Kings' Jordan Nolan celebrates Stanley Cup victory at a Garden River Pow Wow (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Los Angeles Kings’ Jordan Nolan celebrates Stanley Cup victory at a Garden River Pow Wow (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Jordan Nolan brought the Cup to Garden River when the Kings won it in 2012, so he figured he had to up his game when he returned with Stanley last week. So he surprised father Ted by also brining the Jack Adams Trophy that he won in 1996-97 as coach of the year for his work with the Sabres.

Father and son cling to the winner's bling - Jordan Nolan (right) to the Stanley Cup, Ted Nolan (left) to the Jack Adams Trophy (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Father and son cling to the winner’s bling – Jordan Nolan (right) to the Stanley Cup, Ted Nolan (left) to the Jack Adams Trophy (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).


Jordan Nolan strikes a familiar pose with the Cup (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Jordan Nolan strikes a familiar pose with the Cup (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).


Ted and Jordan Nolan enjoy a little father/son quiet time with Stanley (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Ted and Jordan Nolan enjoy a little father/son quiet time with Stanley (Photo/Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame).

Rinks tell story of minority hockey history

Originally posted on TheColorOfHockey:

To the naked eye they are nothing more than buildings – unremarkable structures that house sheets of ice, scoreboards, benches and locker rooms.

But a handful of ice skating rinks across the United States and Canada are much more. They bear the names of minorities who’ve contributed to hockey history and their left imprint on the game and in the communities that these rinks serve. Some of the rinks may not look like much, but they mean a lot in terms of the little-known story of hockey’s rich minority legacy.

From the shores of Atlantic City, N.J., to the chilly  river banks of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, the rinks offer a mixed roll call of recognizable and some not-so recognizable figures.

Art Dorrington back in the day. (Photo courtesy Boardwalk Hall & Atlantic City Convention Center via Getty Images)

Art Dorrington back in the day. (Photo courtesy Boardwalk Hall & Atlantic City Convention Center via Getty Images)

At age 83, Art Dorrington has long hung up his skates. But you can’t keep him out of the rink. He’s a fixture and legend…

View original 1,009 more words

More “Cool Runnings”? Jamaica seeks to build 2018 Winter Olympics hockey team


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The country that gave us Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Red Stripe beer, and the world’s funkiest bobsled team wants to add one more thing to its “famous-for” list: ice hockey.

The Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation is ramping up its efforts to build a national team that it hopes will follow in the legendary footsteps of the Jamaican Bobsled Team and compete in the Winter Olympics, as early as the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Jamaica took the first step in its seemingly improbable quest in May 2012 when it joined the International Ice

Former Bruins forward Graeme Townshend hopes to coach Jamaica in the Winter Olympics.

Former Bruins forward Graeme Townshend hopes to coach Jamaica in the Winter Olympics.

 Hockey Federation as an associate member. Step Two occurred last May when JOIHF announced the program’s management and coaching staff. The staff includes Head Coach Graeme Townshend, who was the NHL’s first Jamaican-born player when he debuted with the Boston Bruins in 1989-90; Paul Jerrard, who briefly played for the Minnesota North Stars, served as an assistant coach for the Dallas Stars, and is currently an assistant coach for the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks’ American Hockey League farm team; and Cosmo Clarke, a former college player and minor leaguer who now specializes in strength training.

“There are quite a few players of Jamaican descent,” Lester Griffin, the Jamaica program’s assistant general manager, told me. “You have them playing in the NHL, you have them playing in the ECHL, college and juniors. It’s just a matter of letting them know about this and getting the message out there.”

Which brings us to Step Three. JOIHF is scheduled to hold its first-ever player tryout for Jamaican expatriates and other players of Caribbean heritage on August 23 at the Westwood Arena in Etobicoke, Ontario. Players from this and later tryouts will be considered for a 2015 exhibition touring team. That team will serve as an audition, of sorts, for a Jamaican squad that would play in IIHF tournaments and eventually attempt to qualify for the Winter Olympics.

“When the word first got out about this a couple of years ago I got a lot of calls from all over Canada, the United States, and parts of Europe from kids that want to be involved,” Townshend told me. “Now that the word is out officially that we’re having a tryout, I can just imagine there should be quite a turnout.”

With the clock rapidly ticking towards  2018, Townshend, 48, already envisions the type of team that he’d command in Pyeongchang. When he thinks Jamaica, he sees Slovenia. That country’s plucky seventh-place Olympic team had only one NHL star on its roster, Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar. The rest of the squad was a mix of younger and older international players, most of whom were bypassed by NHL teams.

“So I think our team would look something similar to that one,” Townshend said. “We wouldn’t have a big superstar, most likely, but we’d have a collection of players that I think could definitely compete. “We’d be relying on some former NHLers. Guys like (Montreal Canadiens defenseman) P.K. Subban (dad Karl Subban is from Jamaica and mom, Maria, hails from Montserrat) and the like wouldn’t be available to us because they’ve played for Canada, but players of that background. Then a collection of high-end juniors/college players who could fill the rest of the roster.”

Jamaica hopes hockey-playing cool runners will accompany its bobsled team to the 2018 Winter Games.

Jamaica hopes hockey-playing cool runners will accompany its bobsled team to the 2018 Winter Games.

Townshend, who runs youth hockey clinics and camps and served as a skills coach for the San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs, was approached by JOIHF officials in late 2011 about becoming Jamaica’s bench boss. Coaching a team from a warm-weather country without an indoor ice rink and has potential players spread around the globe? Sign me up, Townshend said.

“I’m on the ground floor of something that I think could be special. We’ll see what happens,” he told me. “For me, I think it’s a celebration of the heritage of the island. I’m proud that I came from the island, that my parents came to Canada with nothing and built a good life for ourselves, and hockey was a huge part of it. Jamaicans are great athletes and they’re passionate, and that’s everything that hockey’s all about.”

Jamaica still has quite a few hurdles – pardon the track and field metaphor – to overcome before playing its first official international game. IIHF rules require full member nations to have ice hockey facilities and grassroots hockey programs in place to grow the sport in-country. JOIHF officials say they’re starting street and roller hockey programs. As for the ice hockey facility, that’s going to take more planning and much more fundraising by the non-profit group.

“We’re going down there next month with a delegation and taking a rink person with us,” said Griffin, a long-time youth hockey organizer and official in South Carolina and Michigan. “We’ve reviewed a few places where we could put ice in or maybe a couple of locations where we can build a rink.”

Like Townshend, former Penguins defenseman Jim Paek is tasked with quickly building an Olympic hockey team(Photo/Pittsburgh Penguins).

Like Townshend, former Penguins defenseman Jim Paek is tasked with quickly building an Olympic hockey team(Photo/Pittsburgh Penguins).

Jamaica may be at a standing start in its drive for the Winter Games, but its not the only country trying to build a competitive hockey team in a hurry. South Korea, the 2018 Winter Games’ host nation, recently tapped former defenseman Jim Paek, who won Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, to coach its struggling national team.

Paek’s mission is to improve a team that was relegated to the IIHF’s Division I, Group B after it went 0-5 at the world championship which South Korea hosted last April. The nation is ranked 23rd in the world, wedged between Great Britain and Poland.

“Hockey’s a funny sport,” Paek, 48, told The Toronto Star recently.  “Look at the 1980 U.S. team (when collegians won Olympic gold). Not saying we’ll do that, but you never want to set your goals low. You might as well shoot for the stars if you can.”

Townshend says never say never when it comes to South Korea and Jamaica chances on ice.

“I’d say 20 years ago, I was one of those ignorant people that laughed at the notion that Californians and Texans would play in the NHL,” he told me. “Now you’ve got Texans and Californians making the NHL. It’s not too far out of the realm of possibility that you’ll have a Jamaican born and trained player in 20 years.”

The Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation’s first player tryout is scheduled for August 23 at Westwood Arena, 90 Woodbine Downs Blvd., Etobicoke, Ont., Canada. For sign-up information, visit








P.K. gets paid – Subban signs 8-year, $72 million deal with Montreal


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Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban finally got the long-term deal that he’s longed for.

The 25-year-old NHL All-Star, 2014 Olympic hockey gold medalist and 2013 Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman signed an eight-year, $72 million contract with the Habs Saturday, ending months of sometimes tense negotiations that included an arbitration hearing last Friday. The deal makes Subban, who was a restricted free agent, one of the highest-paid defensemen in the league and represents the biggest salary cap hit – $9 million – against the Canadiens payroll for the 2014-15 season.

“We are very pleased to have reached a long term agreement with P.K. Subban,” Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin said in a

Montreal Canadiens'  P.K. Subban.

Montreal Canadiens’ P.K. Subban.

statement. “This agreement helps consolidate the future of our team. A key element of our group of young veterans, P.K. plays with a high level of intensity every time he steps onto the ice. Despite his young age, he carries a great deal of experience and brings contagious energy to the team. Defensemen of his level are a rare commodity in the NHL.”

In a tweet, Subban said “Thank you @canadiensmtl for making a commitment to myself and my family. Im Excited about the future! #letsgetit.”

“I think that it sends a strong message to me that they want me here and they appreciate everything I’ve done to this point and they believe in me as a player,” he added in a Saturday night conference call. “I think I’ve always believed that, but obviously in this process and coming out with this result, now everybody else understands it and can see it as well and doesn’t have to speculate about how the Montreal Canadiens feel about me.”

The contract opens a new chapter for Subban and closes the book on a productive and sometimes controversial 2013-14 season for him. He registered 10 goals and 43 assists as the only Canadiens player to appear in all 82 regular season games last season. He was tied for fifth among NHL defensemen in scoring in 2013-14.

Subban led Montreal in assists – he was fifth among NHL defenders in helpers – and led the team in power play points with 23. He was second among Canadiens players in time on ice, averaging 24:36 minutes per game. He played a whopping 33 minutes in Game Four in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers.

P.K. Subban will be jousting with the NHL's best, like Washington's Alex Ovechkin, for the next 8 seasons for Montreal (Photo/Chuck Myers)

P.K. Subban will be jousting with the NHL’s best, like Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, for the next 8 seasons for Montreal (Photo/Chuck Myers)

Subban was third on the Canadiens in penalty minutes with 81, shots on goal with 204, bodychecks with 135, and fourth in blocked shots with 125.

Though loved by Montreal fans, Subban’s gaudy numbers and electrifying style of play didn’t always translate to superstar treatment by his team or the hockey establishment. He was benched a couple of times last season by Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien in the closing minutes of games or overtime.

“You know what, I think that at some point in time, like I’ve said, just focus on what you can control and that’s just how you play,” Subban said in an interview last February on Montreal’s TSN 690 radio.“Sometimes it’s tough, you know. There’s different circumstances during the season maybe where things aren’t going your way and you can be frustrated with many different things, but all you can do and all you can control as a player is just try to go out there, play your game and do what you can. It could be tough sometimes, but you just got to remain positive and try to be as positive as you can, and that’s what you got your parents for and that’s why you got close friends. That’s where that father-son relationship with your Dad is important.”

Subban also had to sweat out whether he would be selected for Canada’s Olympic hockey team for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. In speaking  on the team selection process, Mike Babcock, Team Canada’s head coach and bench boss of the Detroit Red Wings, told The Toronto Star “You don’t put people on the ice you don’t trust…you’ve got to be a trustworthy player.”

Subban was eventually named to Team Canada but he only played 11 minutes during the squad’s Gold Medal run. Though he didn’t play much, Subban didn’t sulk. He supported his teammates, worked hard in practice, and kept the team loose with his outgoing and outsized personality. He took in the Olympic experience, hauling his family (minus hockey-playing brothers Malcolm and Jordan) to Russia for the festivities.

Subban’s stock soared during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He led the team with 5 goals and 9 assists in 17 playoff games. He scored a double overtime game-winner against the Boston Bruins last May that spurred some racist tweets by a few so-called fans. He got under the skin of some Bruins players including forward Shawn Thornton, who squirted Subban in the face from the bench with a water bottle.

Subban handled the racist tweets with class, saying the incident wasn’t a reflection of the arch-rival Bruins or true Boston hockey fans.

“It’s completely unfair for anybody to point the finger at the organization or the fan base,” he said. “They have passionate fans here, great fan base and since I’ve been in the league it’s been awesome. I’ve come to Boston many times, my family has come here, and it’s been great.”


Famous hockey families of color – “The Lost Episodes”


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It was a joy speaking last week with members of the Subban, Vilgrain and Nurse families, famous hockey clans whose children are helping change the face of hockey from youth leagues to the college and professional ranks.

The families offered interesting insights about themselves, the game, and life in general. They shared so much that I couldn’t fit it all into last week’s stories. So I thought I’d jot down some of the more interesting items that didn’t make the cut. Call it “Famous Hockey Families of Color – The Lost Episodes.”

Karl Subban – father of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban, and

Montreal's P.K. Subban, right, is having an impact on and off the ice.(Photo/Chuck Myers)

Montreal’s P.K. Subban, right, is having an impact on and off the ice.(Photo/Chuck Myers)

2013 Vancouver Canucks draftee Jordan Subban – wonders sometimes whether P.K. fully grasps the impact he’s having in attracting more minorities to hockey either as fans or players.

“I sometimes don’t know if he knows the importance of what he’s doing,” Karl told me. “My wife (Maria) is from Montserrat and everyone from Montserrat who lives in Toronto knows about P.K. and are watching hockey because of P.K. So many Jamaicans are watching hockey because of this kid. P.K. got a letter from a daughter of a former Jamaican prime minister, Michael Manley. He was a prime minister when I was growing up (in Jamaica) before we got our independence. It’s all because of what he’s doing on the ice.”

Soo Greyhound's Darnell Nurse.

Soo Greyhound’s Darnell Nurse.

Richard Nurse, father of 2013 Edmonton Oilers first round draft pick Darnell Nurse, was a wide receiver and special teams player for five seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League and prided himself on being an athlete who wasn’t afraid to hit or get hit. Darnell likes to bang on the ice, too, but Richard insists that he didn’t get that trait from him. Consider it a gift from mom, Cathy.

“The funny thing is (Darnell’s) mother played college basketball (at Canada’s McMaster University) and she was a physical player,” Richard said. “All of my kids are physical.”

Even daughter Kia, a member of the Canadian women’s national basketball team who’ll play for the University of Connecticut this fall, likes to play a hard game. Her father has a warning for UConn’s opponents this season. “What they will find out about her very quick is, besides being extremely skilled, she’s a nasty piece of business,” Richard said. “She’s very physical.”

Richard said one of the neatest hockey experiences of Darnell’s career thus far was playing on Skillz

Skillz Coach Cyril Bollers.

Skillz Coach Cyril Bollers.

hockey teams, predominantly black youth squads coached by Cyril Bollers. Skillz’s Black Aces and Black Mafia teams have helped produce a bumper crop of NHL draft picks including Nurse; Joshua Ho-Sang, a forward taken with the 28th overall selection this year by the New York Islanders; forward Keegan Iverson, taken in the third round this year by the New York Rangers; and forward Jaden Lindo, a 2014 fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Former Skillz players and parents say the teams offered a change of pace for youngsters who often found themselves as the only minority players on their regular teams and had to conform to locker room cultures where country and rock music often dominated. Bollers’ Skillz locker rooms often moved to a Reggae beat.

“I always thought C.J. (Bollers)  did a really good job when he put the Black Aces, Black Mafia, and Skillz hockey together,” Richard said. “I remember talking to  C.J. and telling him ‘This is the first time he’s (Darnell) been in a dressing room with all black guys.’ It was a great experience because it’s something that doesn’t really happen all the time.”

U of Wisconsin's Sarah Nurse.

U of Wisconsin’s Sarah Nurse.

Richard said the Skillz alumni and P.K. Subban are adding new dimensions to hockey with their athleticism and confident swagger. But is hockey – particularly the NHL – ready for the swagger?

“That’s a great question,” Richard replied. “I think the trailblazer is P.K., but I don’t know the answer to that. Hockey is still very conservative.”

How good is University of Wisconsin forward Sarah Nurse? Darnell’s older cousin is so good that she played on boys teams until she was 11 and received her first U.S. college recruitment letter when she was in the eighth grade.

Sarah’s father, Roger Nurse, and her uncle, Richard, had visions of a dream team dancing in their heads when she and Darnell tried out together for a youth hockey team.

“They were, I think, 9 years old,” Roger Nurse told me. “Sarah played for the boys, we have a league called the Hamilton Hub league, it’s low-level rep hockey. So Sarah played in that league as an eight year old, had like 100 points, was the leading scorer in the league, tries out for the AAA team with Darnell and she didn’t make it. And we were like ‘Oh.’ She was still playing girls hockey at a division up anyway so she still got everything she needed, so we didn’t worry about it too much. But that was the only chance they had to play together.”

“You watch as a parent, you’re sitting there proud because there’s your daughter and your nephew and they’re the two best players on the ice and you’re like ‘Oh, this is great, this is going to be a fun year’ because you knew it would never happen again,” Roger continued. “When it didn’t happen, it was disappointing.”

Sarah’s apparently never looked back from that disappointment. She scored 11 goals and 10 assists in 38 games as a freshman last season for the Badgers. She was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2013 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Finland. She’ll participate in Hockey Canada’s National Women’s Development Team selection camp next month in Calgary.

Cassandra Vilgrain, a sophomore forward for University of New Hampshire women’s hockey team and daughter of former NHLer Claude Vilgrain, told me that she’s thrilled to see more people of color involved in the sport at all levels. But she could only recall playing against one minority player – Boston College defenseman Kaliya Johnson.

Boston College's Kaliya Johnson (Photo/John Quackenbos).

Boston College’s Kaliya Johnson (Photo/John Quackenbos).

But women’s college hockey, like the rest of the sport, is experiencing an influx of players of color. California-born and Arizona-raised, Johnson tallied 11 assists for the Eagles last season. She was a member of the Silver Medal-winning U.S. team at the 2011-12 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship.

Brown University's Janice Yang.

Brown University’s Janice Yang.

Brown University forward Janice Yang led the Bears women’s hockey team in scoring last season with 7 goals and 5 assists in 29 games.  Yang, a junior from Westport, Conn., was joined on the team last season by forward Maddie Woo, a freshman forward from Plymouth,Minn. She had 2 goals and an assist in 29 games.

Princeton's Kelsey Koelzer (Photo/Princeton Athletic Communications)

Princeton’s Kelsey Koelzer (Photo/Princeton Athletic Communications)

Kelsey Koelzer was a freshman forward for the Princeton University Tigers women’s team last season. A Horsham, Pa., native, she tallied 6 goals and 4 assists in 31 games.








Family competitiveness fuels hockey success for the Nurses


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When it comes to competition, it’s hard to beat the Nurse family.

Athletic excellence seems to be on every branch of the family tree: Roger Nurse was a stellar Lacrosse player in Canada. Brother Richard was a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. His wife, Cathy, was a basketball standout at Canada’s McMaster University. Their daughter, Tamika, played hoops for the University of Oregon and Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Another daughter, Kia, is a point guard for Canada’s national women’s basketball team and will play for the University of Connecticut this Fall.

Even extended family members have strong sports ties: Richard and Roger’s sister, Raquel, a former Syracuse University basketball standout, is married to former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Athletic competition fuels competition in the family.

 “Our whole family, we compete all the  time,” Richard Nurse told me. “My kids compete, me and my wife compete. Everybody competes. There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not competing.”

In recent years, a new competitive branch has sprouted on the Nurse family sports tree – a hockey branch.

Darnell Nurse wants to make the Oilers' roster and Team Canada's, too.

Darnell Nurse wants to make the Oilers’ roster and Team Canada’s, too.

Darnell Nurse, a defenseman for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, will be vying for a spot on the Edmonton Oilers roster when the National Hockey League team opens training camp in September. Next month, the Oilers’ 2013 first round draft pick will attend Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team’s summer development camp in Quebec, an audition of sorts for a slot on Team Canada for the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto this winter.

Darnell, 19, captained the Greyhounds last season and tallied 13 goals, 37 assists in 64 games. He played four regular season games for the Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton’s American Hockey League farm team, and registered one assist. He also notched an assist in three playoff games for the Barons.

Not bad for a kid who initially wanted to follow dad and Uncle Donovan and play football.

“He wanted to play football because he was surrounded by guys who played football,” Richard said. “When you’re a young kid and you’re athletic, they make you a running back. You end up getting hit 1,000 times before it truly ever counts. I told Darnell, ‘You’re a lanky kid, you’ve got a little bit of athleticism, they’re going to make you a running back, you’re going to get hit, you’re going to be on your knees all the time. If you want to play football, you can pick football later.’ He never did because the hockey thing obviously worked out for him.”

These days, it’s Darnell who dishes out the hits on the ice as a physical defenseman with skating skill and some offensive tools. He was one of the final cuts the Oilers made at last season’s training camp and he’s determined to make Head Coach Dallas Eakins’ decision whether to keep him or send him back to Sault Ste. Marie for another season of seasoning a hard one. When he was cut last year, Darnell said “it sucks.” This season, he’s taking a more measured approach.

 “Playing [in the NHL] last year probably wouldn’t have been the best for my development, and you probably take it a little harder when you first get sent down but for me I’m just going to put myself in a position where I’m in the best shape possible and as strong as I can be when September rolls around,” Darnell told the Edmonton Journal earlier this month.

Hockey runs in threes in Roger and Michelle Nurse’s home. Daughter Sarah, 19, begins her sophomore season with the University of Wisconsin’s NCAA Division I women’s hockey team. A forward, she scored 11 goals – including three game-winners – and 10 assists for the Badgers in 38 games. Her performance earned her a spot on the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s 2013-14 All Rookie Team.

Sarah Nurse, earned IIHF gold for Canada, seeks NCAA title with Badgers (Photo/David Stluka)

Sarah Nurse, earned IIHF gold for Canada, seeks NCAA title with Badgers (Photo/David Stluka)

“She’s the cerebral one,” Roger said. “If I have to do a scouting report, I’d say she’s got a very high hockey IQ; does nothing fancy but just gets to the net;  she gets to the open space. She’s always put pucks in the net.”

She was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2013 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Finland. She’s among 42 players invited by Hockey Canada earlier this month to participate in its National Women’s Development Team selection camp next month in Calgary.

“The first thing that comes to mind with Sarah is speed,” Badgers Head Coach Mark Johnson said last year. “She is a great skater, very quick and very fast. She also combines her speed with great stick skills and the ability to score. She comes from an athletic family.”

Sarah’s younger brother, Elijah, was a 13th-round pick of the Greyhounds in last April’s OHL draft. A left wing, he scored 6 goals and 4 assists last season for the Hamilton Huskies in Canada’s Alliance Hockey Minor Midget Pavilion League.

Elijah Nurse hopes to follow Cousin Darnell with Greyhounds.

Elijah Nurse hopes to follow Cousin Darnell with Greyhounds.

“He’s undersized, but tough, tough as nails,” Roger Nurse said of his 16-year-old son. “He can go in a corner and get hit by three guys bigger than him and you think he’s dead. Doesn’t miss a shift.”

Then there’s baby brother Issac,  a 15-year-old forward who played last season for the Huskies. Some hockey experts believe that he could be a future OHL first round draft pick.

“I tell him ‘The harder you work, the harder you work on the ice, it’s up you. You can go anywhere from the first round to the 10th round, it all depends how hard you work,'” Roger said. “He’s got the tools. He’s just got to make sure the toolbox is intact, and this is the year to prove it.”

With a house full of high-caliber athlete-children and being athletes themselves, the Nurse adults combine loving understanding with tough love in preaching and teaching  accountability, toughness, and commitment to their offspring. Those were lessons taught to Richard and Roger by their parents, who moved to Canada from Trinidad.

“You play when you’re hurt, you play through injury, you go hard, and don’t show weaknesses,” Roger said. “You don’t sit off. It’s just a mentality we have.”

Asked if all their kids understand the mentality, Richard Nurse, ever the competitor, let out a laugh.

“I think mine have figured it out,” he said. “Roger’s are still working on it.”





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