Alex Ovechkin skates with D.C.’s Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club


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What do players from the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club do when their Washington, D.C., rink is closed for annual maintenance? They go to Ovie’s house.

Alex Ovechkin shows Fort Dupont player how NHL defenders feel (Photo/Patrick McDermott).

Alex Ovechkin shows Fort Dupont player how NHL defenders feel (Photo/Patrick McDermott).

Thirty-five kids from the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program hit the ice with Washington Capitals All-Star left wing Alex Ovechkin at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Virginia Monday for a clinic.

“Can you imagine having the greatest hockey player…come up and play with you?” Neal Henderson, Fort Dupont’s director and founder told USA Today. “Can you imagine what that is. To be able to touch and talk to an idol like him…is unforgettable.”

Thirty-five players from the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club hang with Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (Photo/Patrick McDermott)

Thirty-five players from the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club hang with Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (Photo/Patrick McDermott)

The clinic was sponsored by Beats by Dr. Dre, a product that Ovechkin endorses. Former Capitals players Alan May and Brent Johnson joined Ovechkin on the Kettler ice.

Ovie perhaps waiting for a pass from Caps center Nicklas Backstrom? Watch out, goalie!(Photo/Patrick McDermott).

Ovie perhaps waiting for a pass from Caps center Nicklas Backstrom? Watch out, goalie!(Photo/Patrick McDermott).

“It’s great for the kids, and for me to spend time with the kids,” Ovechkin told USA Today. “Of course (my mind) is not 100 percent off the game or the playoffs, but to do something like that, it’s always nice, it’s always good for everybody.”




OHL’s Taylor Davis works to join cast of Jersey Boys in National Hockey League


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A bridge that connects Pennsylvania and New Jersey has the slogan “Trenton Makes The World Takes” in huge neon-lit letters posted across its span- a tribute to the Garden State capital’s manufacturing and industrial heritage.

Taylor Davis wants to be Trenton’s next big export, and he’s working far from the shadows of the Lower Trenton Toll Supported Bridge that carries his hometown’s motto in hopes of making his hockey dreams come true.

Hockey has taken Davis from N.J. capital to Canada's (Photo/Valerie Wutti/

Hockey has taken Davis from N.J. capital to Canada’s (Photo/Valerie Wutti/

Davis first put on a pair of skates at Mercer County’s Ice Land when he was three years old after he watched a hockey game on television and told his mother “Mommy, I want to do that.”

Today, Davis is a 19-year-old defenseman for the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, and he’s on a mission to join fellow Jersey Boys like Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau and Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk in the National Hockey League.

“That’s the goal,” Davis said.

Gaudreau was a fourth-round draft pick in 2011. Van Riemsdyk was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, taken behind Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.

While “Johnny Hockey” and JVR burst onto the hockey scene as heralded draft picks, Davis has had to barge his way into the consciousness of the hockey world.

 Davis has gone from  walk-on to defensive standout for 67's (Photo/Valerie Wutti/

Davis has gone from walk-on to defensive standout for 67’s (Photo/Valerie Wutti/

He wasn’t drafted by any Canadian major junior hockey team despite helping Western New York’s Kenmore East High School win the New York State Division II (Small School) championship in 2012 and despite having a solid 2011-12 season with the Buffalo Blades, a Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League team that counts Patrick Kane and former NHLer Todd Marchant among its alums.

Davis joined 67’s basically as a walk-on after being recommended to team officials

Scout Truman Dumel recommended Davis to 67"s.

Scout Truman Dumel recommended Davis to 67″s.

by Truman Dumel, a bird-dog scout who never actually saw Davis play but knew of his hockey pedigree and commitment to the game.

“I kept in touch with their head scout, who was Joe Rowley at the time, and he asks me if I know of any guys,” Dumel recalled. “I go to him, ‘Yeah, I know this kid from New Jersey.'”

Dumel’s recommendation earned Davis an invite to Ottawa’s rookie camp. His performance there garnered an invitation to the 67’s main camp and a roster spot on the team in 2012-13.

He’s been a mainstay on the blue line ever since, though he admits it was a challenge in the beginning of his OHL career.

“I had ups and downs in my first year, going against guys in practice like (Sean)Monahan, who’s in the NHL with the Calgary Flames now,” Davis told me recently. “It was a total shock coming from where you were the man and now you’re a fish in the big sea. It was pretty tough, but it’s been a nice adjustment for me.”

Taylor Davis (Photo/Valerie Wutti/

Taylor Davis (Photo/Valerie Wutti/

Nice indeed. This season, the 5-foot-11, 216-pound Davis has 2 goals and 11 assists in 47 games for the 67’s. He’s turned around a rookie-year plus/minus of minus-10 to a plus-11 this season.

“He has all the talent,” Dumel said. “He’s determined. He knows he has to prove himself, which is what he’s doing. He’s been playing hockey since he was three. He’s trying to go as far as he can.”

Trying to get far in hockey has kept Davis far from home in the off-season. He spent last summer in Venice Beach, California, working out with fitness maven T.R. Goodman,  who’s trained Anaheim Ducks forward Emerson Etem and retired NHL stars Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, and Alan May.

“He’s very good, definitely knows his stuff,” Davis said of Goodman. “When I was there, Emerson Etem was there. Mike Tyson was there in the mornings and you’d see Lou Ferrigno walking around Gold’s Gym all the time.”

When he wasn’t pumping iron, Davis would chat with actor Ray Liotta, another Jersey Boy and regular at Goodman’s gym.

“Ray Liotta was always in there,” Davis said. “I always talked to him – he’s a really funny guy.”




NHL trade deadline, O’Ree Skills Weekend, showcase hockey’s growth


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Notes and quotes about hockey folks.

Another sign of how far people of color have come in hockey: Four black players were traded by the close of the National Hockey League’s trade deadline Monday.

The Buffalo Sabres shipped forward Chris Stewart to the Minnesota Wild Monday for a 2017 second-round draft pick.

Forward Chris Stewart, one of four black players moved before NHL trade deadline.

Forward Chris Stewart, one of four black players moved before NHL trade deadline.

The New York Rangers sent forward Anthony Duclair, their 2013 3rd-round draft pick, to the Arizona Coyotes as part of a package that took coveted puck-moving defenseman Keith Yandle  to Broadway.

The trade potentially reunites Duclair, currently playing for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, with Max Domi, a Coyotes 2013 first-round draft pick who plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.

Duclair, Domi and Sam Reinhart, a Sabres 2014 first round draft pick, combined on a line for Team Canada that dominated the competition on Canada’s way to a Gold Medal at the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. Don’t be surprised to see The Duke and Domi  as high-scoring pups who reinvigorate the Desert Dogs next season.

The Anaheim Ducks sent right wing Devante Smith-Pelly, a force in the Ducks’ Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance last season, to the Montreal Canadiens for left wing  Jiri Sekac.

The Winnipeg Jets shipped unhappy left wing Evander Kane to Buffalo in a multi-player mega-deal that landed the Jets defenseman Tyler Myers, right wing Drew

Stafford, and left wing Brendan Lemieux, a highly-touted prospect who plays for the OHL’s Barrie Colts.

What do these trades say about minorities in hockey? Growth. It wasn’t so long ago when there weren’t even four black players in the NHL. Today, there are nearly three dozen. Some of them are fixtures on their teams while others are call-ups from the minor leagues. The trades are a testament not only to the quantity of players of color in the league but to their quality and skill level as well.

Diversity on display in Flyers' locker room. Left to right: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Wayne Simmonds, Willie O'Ree and Ray Emery (Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).

Diversity on display in Flyers’ locker room. Left to right: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Wayne Simmonds, Willie O’Ree and Ray Emery (Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).

Congrats to the Philadelphia Flyers and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation for hosting a fun and successful 2015 Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend last weekend. The event involved kids from the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” programs.

O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, is a role model for “Hockey is for Everyone” kids and for many of grownups playing on NHL teams.

“He’s my elder,” Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds told reporters. “I treat him with respect and let him know I have a lot of admiration for him. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing this game today. I know that.”

Team Ontario Assistant Coach Cyril Bollers, second row, right.

Team Ontario Assistant Coach Cyril Bollers, second row, right.

And finally, congrats to Cyril Bollers, coach and president of Skillz Hockey, for his work as assistant coach for Team Ontario’s Gold Medal-winning hockey team at the Canada Winter Games, which ended Sunday.

Ontario beat Team Alberta 3-1 Sunday in the championship game played in Prince George, B.C.  The Ontario squad finished the Under-16 tournament with a 6-0 record.







Football player father gets hockey education on son’s way to skating for U of Maine


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Television newsman Mark Hayes knew one thing about hockey when his son, Malcolm, first laced on a pair of skates: That he didn’t know anything about hockey.

“Malcolm was invited to a birthday party when we lived in Detroit and they said ‘Bring your hockey bag.’ He was four or five at the time and we didn’t have a hockey bag. So his mother instructed me to go to the sporting goods store and find out what goes in a hockey bag and fill one up for him,” Mark Hayes told me recently. “The rest is kind of history.”

Today, Malcolm Hayes, 19, is a freshman left wing on the University of Maine Black Bears hockey team. Mark Hayes is a morning news anchor for WLWT television in Cincinnati and a former Howard University football player.

He and his wife, Latonya, have taken the journey that more and more minority parents are finding themselves on, guiding their children through a sport that they were rarely exposed to as kids growing up or seldom watched as adults.

Malcolm Hayes in action for Maine's Black Bears. Hockey was a learning experience for his dad, a former Howard University football player.

Malcolm Hayes in action for Maine’s Black Bears. Hockey was a learning experience for his dad, a former Howard University football player.

“I had no clue because I had no clue about what it took to be really good at it,” Mark Hayes said of hockey. “I knew what it took to be really good at football. Hockey, it’s a different sacrifice. People really don’t understand what it takes to get to that Division I hockey level.”

Popeye Jones knows how Hayes felt. Jones, who was a forward for six National Basketball Association teams over 11 seasons, wasn’t quite sure what to do when his sons, including Seth, became serious about hockey.

Playing for the NBA Denver Nuggets at the time, the 6-foot-8 Popeye approached  5-foot-11 Joe Sakic, the great Colorado Avalanche center, one day for advice.

“He said ‘You’ve got to make sure they know how to skate,'” Popeye, now an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers,  told me recently. “He said ‘They’ll be coordinated and, looking at you, they’re going to be big. Make sure they can skate.'”

Popeye followed Sakic’s advice. Today, Seth Jones is a smooth-skating – and tall – defenseman for the Nashville Predators.

“When you see what your kids are passionate about, you’ve got to let them do it,” Popeye said. “Then your job becomes, if you don’t know anything about hockey, to start watching, start learning about the game. You’ll love it if you start learning about it.”

The Hayes family quickly learned and went all-in on a team sport that perhaps requires more from families in terms of time, travel, expense and support than football, baseball or basketball.

“My dad and my mom were definitely my biggest fans growing up,” Malcolm Hayes told me. “They were always trying to help me be a better hockey player. Even when I was playing both hockey and football, it wasn’t like he (Mark Hayes) was pushing me to practice football more.”

WLWT anchorman and proud hockey papa Mark Hayes learned the game by watching son Malcolm play.

WLWT anchorman and proud hockey papa Mark Hayes learned the game by watching son Malcolm play.

That said, Malcolm conceded that mom and dad initially thought hockey “was going to be like a little phase and I would eventually start playing football or basketball or baseball…I really didn’t like any of those sports.”

Moving to Atlanta and playing football in the sunny South only cemented Malcolm’s desire to become a hockey player.

“Football wasn’t as fun because it was too hot there,” he said. “I would just go to the rink and have a blast. I enjoyed it more than football.”

As Malcolm’s love for hockey grew, so did Mark’s. But sometimes the father felt frustration from being unable to coach or share tips with his youngest son.

Mark’s oldest son, Kenny Hayes, followed in his father’s cleats and was a wide receiver for Howard University’s Bisons. He graduated in 2011.

“It was easy for me to say ‘Hey, try this,’ or ‘Hey, do this,’ or ‘Hey, this is what worked for me.’ I couldn’t do that with Malcolm,” Mark Hayes said. “All I could do is record games on our VCR or DVR and say ‘Hey, check this out. This is how the pros do it.’ I think the most frustrating thing was not being able to help him.”

Recruited as a defenseman, Malcolm Hayes adds scoring punch for Maine as left wing.

Recruited as a defenseman, Malcolm Hayes adds scoring punch for Maine as left wing.

His frustration eased when he learned one valuable lesson by watching Malcolm practice and play: It takes a village – and some serious extra coaching –  to build a good hockey player.

“I started paying attention to what the other families were doing at the rinks,” Mark Hayes recalled. “They were doing private lessons. I grew up playing football, basketball and lacrosse. I didn’t know you had someone to work with your son on just  skills or just skating.”

For eight years in Atlanta, the family had former New York Islanders left wing Yan Kaminsky work as Malcolm’s skating coach and Scott Pearson, a 1988 Toronto Maple Leafs first-round draft pick, as his skills coach.

“My wife would get up at 6 a.m., they’d be at the rink at 6:30 a.m., and back in the car at 7:40 a.m. on their way to school,” Mark Hayes said. “He’d get a nice little hour skate in twice a week then go to regular practices in the evenings.”

University of Maine's Malcolm Hayes.

University of Maine’s Malcolm Hayes.

The extra practice paid off. Malcolm went on to play hockey at Cushing Academy, a Massachusetts prep school that’s produced several National Hockey League players including Arizona Coyotes defenseman Keith YandleBuffalo Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian, and Boston Bruins defensive prospect David Warsofsky.

“Malcolm has a ton of potential and has a high ceiling for improvement as he is physically far ahead of other players his age,” Cushing Head Coach Rob Gagnon told SBNation’s College Hockey blog last year. “He is big, strong and fast. He is very physical in the corners and in front of the net.”

After one season at Cushing, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Hayes accepted a scholarship at Maine.”Malcolm Hayes provides our team tremendous size, explosive power, and a significant offensive upside,” Black Bears Head Coach Red Gendron said in July.

Gendron was so high on Hayes’s offensive skills that he moved the freshman from the blue line to left wing earlier this season. He tallied four goals, two assists, and 34 penalty minutes in 29 regular season games for the Hockey East’s Black Bears.

“Overall, I think my year went pretty well,” he told me. “I definitely had my struggles being my first year, and getting acclimated to playing forward at a high level in Hockey East.”





Canada’s first all-black college hockey line jumped over the boards, into history


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When Saint Mary’s University Huskies hockey Head Coach Bob Boucher called out their names, players Bob Dawson, Percy Paris, and Darrell Maxwell didn’t realize at the time that they were about to jump over the boards and into hockey history.

It was February 1970, as Dawson recalls, in a game against the Mount Allison University Mounties. Boucher did something that no one in Canadian university hockey had done before or since – put an all-black forward line on the ice.

“The first time Bob Boucher did it, I don’t think people gave it too much thought. I don’t think we, as players, gave it a whole lot of thought right away but I think the coach knew exactly what he was doing,” Percy Paris, a former Nova Scotia cabinet minister, told me recently. “Three Nova Scotia-born players of African descent that were good hockey players – I guess he wanted to make a statement. Obviously there weren’t many persons of African-descent playing hockey, period. He wanted people to stand up and take notice and say ‘Here are three good hockey players and there should be more of them. Let’s make room for them.'”

The three line mates shared their under-told story with Rogers Sportsnet over the weekend in an excellent piece by producer Jason Robert Thom that aired as part of the network’s “Hockey Day in Canada” coverage.

If Boucher was trying to make a statement, he never told anyone, even the players involved in the history-making move.

“We were a wee bit confused because Bob was a defenseman,” said Paris, whose brother, John Paris, Jr., became the first black head coach to win a professional hockey championship when he guided the old International Hockey League Atlanta Knights to a title in 1994. “He (Boucher) didn’t come to the three of us and say ‘Percy, you take center, Darrell, you’re going to take the right side.’ He just tapped the three of us on the shoulder and said ‘Get out there.’ And over the boards we went and we figured it out once we got out there.”

Dawson, 68, said “it was only later, reflecting back on it, that we realized the significance of it.”

“Having shared in that was kind of special,” Dawson said. “It brought back memories of the Black Aces of Herb Carnegie, Ossie, and Manny McIntyre.”

The Black Aces: Herb Carnegie, center, Ossie Carnegie, right, and Manny McIntyre.

The Black Aces: Herb Carnegie, center, Ossie Carnegie, right, and Manny McIntyre.

The high-scoring Black Aces line played for the Sherbrooke Saints of the Quebec Provincial Hockey League and for other teams in Canada and Europe in the 1940s. Herb Carnegie, regarded as one of the best hockey players never to reach the National Hockey League, centered the all-black line with older brother Ossie Carnegie on one wing and rugged Manny McIntyre on the other.

Like the Black Aces, Dawson, Maxwell and Paris felt the sting of racism while trying to play the game they loved.

“It wasn’t until I played university hockey in ’67 with Saint Mary’s that I experienced it,” Dawson said. “In 67-68 when I went to places like Prince Edward Island where we’d play the University of Prince Edward Island. During the warm-ups you’d have fans call out names like ‘nigger,’ and ‘snowball,’ and ‘coon.’ During the game, there were one or two opposing players who would echo the same kind of slurs.They’d try to take certain liberties with you in terms of cheap shots – spearing and whacking you behind the legs, and slew-footing you.”

The 1970 St. Mary's University Huskies. Bob Dawson (second from left, middle row) and Darrell Maxwell (third from right, middle row).  Percy Paris not in photo. Head Coach Bob Boucher, front row, center.

The 1970 St. Mary’s University Huskies. Bob Dawson (second from left, middle row) and Darrell Maxwell (third from right, middle row). Percy Paris not in photo. Head Coach Bob Boucher, front row, center.

But the insults and indignities didn’t deter the three players or the team. The Huskies played in Canadian college hockey national championship games in four consecutive seasons to 1973.

The players credit the team’s success to Boucher, who compiled a record of 231 wins, 33 losses and four ties in 13 seasons at Saint Mary’s.

“Our coach was a bit ahead of his time,” said Maxwell, 68, who worked for the Canadian government in its human resources and revenue divisions. “He had been over to Russia and studied their system prior to a lot of people in North America paying a lot of attention to the Russians. We had some unique preparations before and during games, and our practices, that he learned from going over to Europe and Russia.”

Percy Paris, second-row, center, playing for Kings/Edgehill College, a high school hockey team in Nova Scotia.

Percy Paris, second-row, center, playing for Kings/Edgehill College, a high school hockey team in Nova Scotia.

Boucher left Saint Mary’s in 1982 to become an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers for two seasons  under Head Coach Pat Quinn. He took over a Flyers power play that ranked last in the NHL in 1981 and improved it to the league’s best PP the next season. Boucher died in December 2004 after a short battle with lung cancer.

“He was a no-nonsense coach,” said Dawson, a retired Canadian government human resources employee. “In terms of the technical aspects of the game, he was well-versed. And he was fair. He was the best coach I ever had.”

Former Saint Mary's University hockey coach Bob Boucher, right, with then-Philadelphia Flyers head coach Pat Quinn (Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).

Former Saint Mary’s University hockey coach Bob Boucher, right, with then-Philadelphia Flyers head coach Pat Quinn (Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).

Dawson, Maxwell, and Paris plan to go back to Saint Mary’s campus in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August to reminisce about their coach and exchange stories about the good times and bad they experienced over their collegiate hockey careers.

They also plan to do something that they never did during their playing days: take a photo together wearing Saint Mary’s hockey jerseys.

Dawson and Maxwell are in the Huskies’ 1970 team picture but Paris didn’t make the photo session because he was recovering from injuries suffered in a serious car accident.

“Even though we’re showing more gray now than we did then at least we can say we finally have a picture together in a Saint Mary’s uniform,” Maxwell said.

A special Color of Hockey thanks to the good people at Rogers Sportsnet for providing video of their “Hockey Day in Canada” piece on Dawson, Maxwell and Paris.


Evander Kane gets shuffled off to Buffalo by Winnipeg Jets in multi-player trade


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Evander Kane goes from the True North to Western New York in trade.

Evander Kane goes from the True North to Western New York in trade.

After years of trade rumors, the Winnipeg Jets and forward Evander Kane have finally parted ways.

The Jets shipped Kane, who had season-ending left shoulder surgery, defenseman Zach Bogosian, and college goaltender Jason Kasdorf to the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday in a seven-player trade. The Jets received gigantic defenseman Tyler Myers and forwards Drew Stafford and Joel Armia. Winnipeg also received the rights to Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux, who was Buffalo’s 2014 second-round draft pick.

Both teams proclaimed the trade a win-win situation. Buffalo got a big, talented, speedy, tough forward whose shoulder injury won’t allow him to play until next season.

Kane can’t help the Sabres this season, meaning the team is still on course to have one of the worst records in the National Hockey League, meaning it will have a shot at the first or second pick in 2015 NHL Draft. That means Erie Otters and Team Canada wunderkind forward Connor McDavid or Boston University and Team USA star forward Jack Eichel could be snacking on Buffalo chicken wings or beef on weck this fall.

“The sense I get from Buffalo is that, yes, they’re rebuilding but they’re not going to sit around and wait,” Kane told’s Pierre LeBrun. “They’re looking to do something now. It’s nice to go somewhere where you feel wanted and you feel they want to put you in a situation to have success.”

For Buffalo, mired in last place in the NHL Eastern Conference, it’s all about 2015-16 and beyond.

For Winnipeg it’s about here and now. The Jets are sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference, sandwiched between the fourth-place Chicago Blackhawks and the sixth-place Vancouver Canucks.

The Jets and their fans desperately want the team to make the playoffs for the first time since it relocated from Atlanta, where it was called the Thrashers.

By unloading Kane, Winnipeg’s management may feel that they’ve made an addition through subtraction. He had developed a reputation as a problem-child – an immature, bad teammate.

In addition, his brashness rubbed some Winnipeg residents the wrong way. His hip-hop hairstyles and photos of him clutching wads of cash in his hands didn’t endear him to some folks in Manitoba’s capital. Kane summed up the negative perception of him in an interview with The Hockey News in 2013.

“I think a good portion of it is because I’m black and I’m not afraid to say that,” Kane told the publication.

In Myers, the Jets get the 2009-10 NHL Rookie of the Year whose play had been up and down ever since. Winnipeg’s counting on a change of scenery and a shift to a winning franchise to improve his play. One thing’s for sure, the 6-foot, 7-inch Myers, paired with 6-foot, 5-inch, 260-pound defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, will give the Jets size that any NBA team would love.

Winnipeg also gets an intriguing and motivated prospect in Lemieux, the son of former Stanley Cup-winning super-pest Claude Lemieux.

Evander Kane has a wounded shoulder. Brendan Lemieux has a chip on his. He was the first player selected in the second-round of last year’s draft, but thought he was first-round material.

Lemieux vowed to make teams that bypassed him pay. Expect him to enter the Jets training camp in September gunning for a roster spot to deliver on his word.

“I’m definitely going to love going in their arenas and making it hard on their guys because they decided to pass me over, so I’m just going to use this as fuel,” he told the reporters at the draft  in Philadelphia. “They gave one of the more fiery guys in the draft, I’d like to say, a lot more fire.”

Surgery behind her, an Eagle looks to soar to NCAA title, Winter Olympics slot


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Suffering a concussion is usually a bad thing for a hockey player. But for Kaliya Johnson, it proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Johnson, a defenseman on Boston College’s women’s hockey team, suffered a concussion with debilitating symptoms that lasted beyond four months.

From the sun-drenched West Coast to snowy New England, Kaliya Johnson helps anchor Boston College's blue line.

From the sun-drenched West Coast to snowy New England, Kaliya Johnson helps anchor Boston College’s blue line.

An MRI done before the start of BC’s 2014-15 Hockey East season revealed the true source of Johnson’s problem: a Chiari malformation, a structural condition of the brain and spinal cord that contributes to a smaller than normal space for the brain, pressing it downward. In many cases, people aren’t aware they have the ailment.

“Basically, my brain was sitting below the base of my skull. It was something I was born with,” Johnson told me recently. “I had symptoms all my life – little things like pressure headaches, getting migraines. I thought it was normal for me.”

In September, doctors performed surgery that “opened up some space and removed the first vertebrae in my neck, so there was more room to breathe back there,” Johnson said.

Given the physical nature of hockey, Johnson’s condition was discovered in the nick of time.

“It could have been a lot more damaging if I would have continued to keep playing and I got hit in the head wrong, or my back,” she said “It would have been permanently damaging. I feel great now.”

Johnson, a junior, was back on the ice in November and has been a stalwart on the Boston College Eagles’ defense ever since.

The Eagles, the nation’s top-ranked Division I women’s hockey team, suffered a 3-2 defeat to fourth-ranked Harvard University Tuesday night in the championship game of the 37th annual Women’s Beanpot Tournament at Harvard’s Bright-Landry Hockey Center.

Still, it seems fitting that Johnson plays for a hockey team nicknamed after a bird. She has logged a lot of frequent flier miles traveling for the love of hockey.

Boston College's Kaliya Johnson takes flight on the ice.

Boston College’s Kaliya Johnson takes flight on the ice with the puck.

She got interested in hockey after watching “The Mighty Ducks” movie when she was two years old and living in Los Angeles. And after learning how to skate at the Culver Ice Arena and developing some serious hockey skills, she joined the Anaheim Lady Ducks, a program that has sent several players to the top NCAA women’s hockey powerhouses over the years.

Like ducks and eagles, Johnson knows a thing or two about flying. As Johnson’s youth hockey career was taking off in Southern California her mother, Kellie, decided to relocate the family to Arizona.

“I think she just wanted to change and where I was, the school system wasn’t the greatest,” she said.

Even though Arizona had the National Hockey League’s Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes, various incarnations of the Phoenix Roadrunners in various leagues, club hockey at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, the state still wasn’t a youth hockey hotbed while Johnson was growing up.

“They had a boy’s league and I played in it for a year,” she told me recently. “It was the year I went from squirts to pee wee and they started checking. It got too physical and I broke my arm. I got hit pretty badly and I landed on my elbow. So after that, I decided that I would stick to girl’s hockey. But there wasn’t a team competitive enough for me in Arizona or one that had a well developed program where I could go out and play other competitive teams.”

So she kept playing with the Lady Ducks. Every other weekend Johnson’s mother would drive her 12-year-old daughter to the airport and watch her board a plane to Anaheim by herself.

“It was about a 1 1/2, 2-hour flight,” said Johnson, now 20 years old. “I went by myself and one of my good friends’ mother on my team would pick me up at the airport and I’d stay with them.”

“It  was a big sacrifice for my family,” she added. “I’m sure it was hard on her to have her daughter leaving that young almost every other weekend. But she was very supportive and encouraged me to follow my dream. That’s what I wanted to do.”

Boston College's Kaliya Johnson against arch-rival Boston University.

Boston College’s Kaliya Johnson against arch-rival Boston University.

Johnson earned even more frequent flier miles in high school when she was recruited to attend the North American Hockey Academy, an elite girl’s program in snowy Stowe, Vt. – nearly 2,800 miles from her family’s home in sun-drenched Chandler, Ariz.

“They had two hockey teams there, all girls, and there were about 40 of us,” she said. “We would move up there in late September and we would play the season. They had a league and everything established. We lived in an old resort ski lodge and there was private tutoring. We would travel almost every weekend to play league games and  tournaments. When the season was over, I’d fly back to Arizona and finish the school  year there.”

Johnson’s hockey prowess caught the eyes of USA Hockey. She was a member of the development program’s Under-18 team that won the Silver Medal at the 2011-12 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship.

At Boston College, Johnson has tallied one goal, five assists, and six penalty minutes in 20 games this season.

She’s hoping that her her strong defensive play, and the Eagles making a run for their first NCAA Division I women’s hockey title, will catch USA Hockey’s attention once again and lead to more flying: to PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018 as a member U.S. women’s Olympic ice hockey team.

“I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics and be able to represent Team USA,” she said. “My goal is to get back on their (USA Hockey’s) radar.”

In the meantime, Johnson is focused on helping the Eagles soar to an NCAA hockey title.

Subban vs. Subban? Oh, brother, it could happen on Sunday


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Goalie Malcolm Subban awaits first NHL start.

Goalie Malcolm Subban awaits first NHL start.

There’s something special about brothers playing against each other in hockey.

Former Boston Bruins sniper Phil Esposito had an intense rivalry with his younger brother and fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito, a stingy goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal once knocked brother Marc, a member of the New York Rangers, silly with a questionable hit against the boards. And Keith and Wayne Primeau actually dropped the gloves and duked it out when Keith played for the Hartford Whalers and Wayne for the Buffalo Sabres.

Hockey fans could be in for a treat Sunday when the Montreal Canadiens play the Boston Bruins, a game scheduled to air nationally on NBCSN. If Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien decides to start rookie goaltender Malcolm Subban against defenseman P.K. Subban’s Habs, it will be one of the rare times when players of color who are related square off in an NHL regular season game.

There are no guarantees that it happens. Malcolm Subban hasn’t played a regular

Montreal's P.K. Subban.

Montreal’s P.K. Subban.

season minute in the NHL. He’s up from the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins because Boston sent backup goalie Niklas Svedberg to its Rhode Island affiliate for a conditioning stint.

Boston has been slow and deliberate in grooming Malcolm Subban, their 2012 first-round draft pick. When asked if the rookie goaltender would get a start this weekend, Julien only told reporters “We’ll see, guys.”

Julien could give Subban his first NHL start Saturday when the Canadiens play the New York Islanders.

Malcolm Subban told reporters that he’s up for whatever, even facing P.K. and his Howitzer slapshot from the point.  “It would be pretty cool, but I’m not thinking into it too much,” he told Thursday. “Just trying to stay focused. Whenever the opportunity comes, hopefully I’ll be ready.”

Netminder Subban and defenseman Subban have faced each other before in a 2013 preseason game that Boston won 6-3.

“He had one (shot), it was probably the slowest shot I had all night,” Malcolm told after that game. “A little knucklepuck on net.”

Sounds like blackboard material to me.

Minority hockey-playing brothers have skated against each other before.  Chris Stewart, then a forward for the St. Louis Blues,  and Anthony Stewart, a forward for the Hurricanes at the time, faced each other in 2011.

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 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 Boston Bruins in 1958. James, 57, was the league’s first U.S.-born black player and probably the only NHLer born in Ocala, Florida.

His path to hockey started when his family moved to New York and his jack-of-all-trades father took a job at the Long Island Arena.

“He started out being a night watchman there, fixing things when they needed to be fixed,” James told me. “Then he ended up getting into the operations of it all.”

With dad working in the arena, young Val James got freebies for every major 1970s rock & roll act when they played the Island – the Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Burton Cummings.

He also regularly watched the EHL Long Island Ducks play and practice at the arena, fascinated by the speed and aggressiveness of the game. When James got his first pair of ice skates at 13, and with his dad owning a key to the stadium, the Long Island Arena became his practice facility.

“I’d grown up watching the Canadian men play hockey for the Long Island Ducks skate on this same ice,” James and Gallagher wrote. “I imagined myself as one of them.”

James developed into a good enough hockey player to be a 16th-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 1977, though he never played for the team. He 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?”

Since hanging up his skates, James has traded hard ice for soft water. He works as a water park mechanic in Niagara Falls, Ontario, a short drive from Rochester and Buffalo – homes of his hockey glory days.

Rochester fans remember James not only for his fisticuffs but also for scoring the game-winning goal for the Americans in the deciding game of the 1983 Calder Cup championship against the Maine Mariners.

The Americans are holding a “Val James Legends Night” on Feb. 13 – the day before his birthday – at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena. In Buffalo, he’s been invited to speak to the kids of Hasek’s Heroes, an inner-city hockey program founded by former Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek.

James hopes the attention from the book will lead to opportunities to get back into organized hockey, perhaps in the coaching ranks.

“I think I can help the sport out more than I have,” he said.

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.


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