Willie O’Ree goes from Hockey Hall of Fame plaque to San Diego bobblehead

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What do you do for a man who’s just been immortalized on a Hockey Hall of Fame plaque? Make a bobblehead in his image.

That’s what the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League did for Willie O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player.

San Diego honored O’Ree, who played seven seasons for Gulls teams that skated in the defunct Western Hockey League and Pacific Hockey League, at a home game Friday night after he was enshrined at the Hall Monday evening.

The Gulls, an Anaheim Ducks farm team, wore O’Ree-era throwback jerseys Friday in their game against the Bakersfield Condors, an Edmonton Oilers affiliate.

O’Ree became the NHL’s first black player on January 18, 1958 when he skated for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens at the old Montreal Forum.

He appeared in 45 games over two NHL seasons,  a remarkable feat considering that he’s blind in his right eye – the result of being struck by a puck.

But the injury didn’t prevent him from having a long and productive minor league career, most of which was played in San Diego.

“I was a San Diego Gull when I came here in 1967 and I still am,” O’Ree told the bobblehead-receiving fans inside the Valley  View Casino Center Friday.”It is the finest group of fans I ever played in front of and I am honored to be part of this tonight.”

O’Ree, who makes his home in San Diego, finished his playing career in 1978-79 as the old WHL’s 16th all-time leading scorer with 328 goals and 311 assists in 785 games.

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O’Ree entered the Hall as a Builder, a category reserved for those who have contributed to the foundation of the game.

His induction into the Hall is a a nod to his work as the NHL’s diversity ambassador and its “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

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Ohio’s Chayla Edwards commits to play hockey for the University of Wisconsin

Congratulations to Chayla Edwards, who signed a letter of intent to play hockey for the University of Wisconsin.

Chayla Edwards will play for U of Wisconsin in 2019-2020.

Edwards, a 17-year-old, defenseman and high school senior from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, will debut with the NCAA Division I Badgers in the 2019-2020 season.

She currently skates for Pittsburgh’s Shady Side Academy and the Pittsburgh Penguins 19U Girls Elite Team.

“So honored and excited to officially become a Badger!!!,” Edwards tweeted.

Edwards tallied 4 goals and 2 assists for Shady Side in 2017-18 and helped power the team to Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic titles in 2016 and 2017.

Edwards earned All-WIHLMA honors over the last three seasons. She was named to USA Today’s 2017-18 American Family Insurance All-USA Preseason Girls Hockey Team. She also participated in the 2017 USA Hockey Girls U18 Select Player Development Camp.

Defenseman Chayla Edwards will be patrolling the blue line for the University of Wisconsin next season (Photo/Courtesy Robert Edwards).

“It came down to (Associate Head Coach) Dan Koch and (Head Coach) Mark Johnson,” Robert Edwards, Chayla’s father, said of his daughter’s university choice. “The fact that they are one of the top teams doesn’t hurt and their hockey culture, from my understanding,  is top notch. We’re very comfortable with the coaching and very comfortable with Wisconsin.”

Black hockey players have gravitated to the University of Wisconsin over the last few seasons.

Shady Side Academy senior Chayla Edwards becomes the latest hockey player of color to commit to the University of Wisconsin (Photo/Courtesy Robert Edwards).

Defenseman K’Andre Miller, a 2018 New York Rangers first-round draft pick, is  playing his freshman season in Madison, Wisconsin for men’s hockey Head Coach Tony Granato.

Forward Sarah Nurse, a 2018 Canadian Winter Olympian, played four seasons at Wisconsin. She finished her NCAA career with 76 goals and 61 assists in 150 regular season games.

Nurse now plays for the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She has a goal and an assist in seven games so far this season. The goal was a game-winner.

“My daughters have been influenced by her and are encouraged by her success,” Robert Edwards said.

JD Greenway,  a 2016 Toronto Maple Leafs third-round draft pick and the younger brother of 2018 U.S. Winter Olympian and Minnesota Wild forward prospect Jordan Greenway, played two seasons at Wisconsin before joining the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2018-19.

Hockey is a huge part of the Edwards family. Oldest sister Britney doesn’t play, but encourages her siblings. Chayla’s younger sister, Laila Edwards, is a forward for Selects Academy at Bishop Kearney in Rochester, New York. Older brother, Bobby, plays club hockey at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and younger brother, Colson, plays for the Cleveland Jr. Jacks.

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Willie O’Ree, inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame, says his diversity ‘work is not done’

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TORONTO – Displaying the humility and determination that’s typified his life and career, Willie O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player, was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday night.

In a moving speech, the 83-year-old pioneer lauded hockey for embracing diversity, but added that there’s still more to do to make the sport more inclusive.

And he expects to be at the forefront of the effort.

“Tonight, I am here to tell you that we are not done because the work is not done,”  O’Ree told the packed crowd at the induction ceremony inside the Hall in Toronto. “We have barriers to break and knock down, and opportunities to give.”

He urged the audience to “return to your communities, take a look around.”

“Find a young boy or girl who needs the opportunity to play hockey and give it go them,” he added. “You never know, they may make history.”

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O’Ree got that chance on January 18, 1958 when the Boston Bruins called him up for a game against the Montreal Canadiens in the old Montreal Forum.

“All I wanted was to be a hockey player,” he said in his induction speech. “All I needed was the opportunity. To be here tonight is simply overwhelming.”

With no 24-hour news cycle of social media, the feat of him becoming the NHL’s first black player was largely confined to the local press. Even O’Ree said he didn’t know he made history until he read about it in the morning paper.

O’Ree’s NHL career was brief, 45 games over two seasons. The fact that he played that many games in the big leagues at all was amazing considering he was blind in his right eye, the result of a being struck with the puck.

But O’Ree’s Hall entry isn’t  about his player’s stats. The Hall of Fame’s selection committee admitted him as a Builder, a category reserved for for coaches, general managers, noted broadcasters and others who are regarded as pillars of the game.

O’Ree has worked tirelessly as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador since 1996, traveling across the United States and Canada to visit youth hockey programs affiliated with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

He’s also a revered figure to many of the NHL’s players, who seek him out for guidance and advice. O’Ree has been a mentor, role model, and advocate in growing hockey in communities previously overlooked by the sport.

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“He’s what a builder is right out of the gate – you couldn’t make a better description of a builder,” said Grant Fuhr, the Edmonton Oilers goaltending great who became the Hall’s first black inductee in 2003. “When you see another person of color playing it gives you that thought that you can possibly play. It opens up a big door.”

O’Ree joins Fuhr and Angela James, a Canadian women’s hockey star who was regarded as the female Wayne Gretzky in her heyday, as the only black members of the Hall of Fame.

O’Ree told the Hall of Fame audience that he stood on the shoulders of others, notably the late Herb Carnegie and Manny McIntyre.

Carnegie, his brother, Ossie, and McIntyre, combined to form the “Black Aces,” the first all-black professional hockey line.

Herb Carnegie played on the semi-pro Quebec Aces with forward Jean Beliveau, who went on to become a  Canadiens legend. Beliveau regarded Carnegie as one of the best players he ever skated with.

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“As a teen, I looked up to Herb Carnegie and Manny McIntyre,” O’Ree said Monday. “They paved the way for me. They just never got the opportunity I did.”

O’Ree was enshrined Monday with New Jersey Devils goaltending legend Martin Brodeur,  former Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers sniper Martin St. Louis, Russian hockey star Alexander Yakushev, Canadian women’s hockey star  and Canadian Women’s Hockey League Commissioner Jayna Hefford and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

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Hockey Hall of Famers laud the inductions of Willie O’Ree, Jayna Hefford

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TORONTO – Angela James is excited to have company.

James, the first black woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, will be joined in Toronto’s hockey shrine Monday night by Willie O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player, and Jayna Hefford, the commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and, like James, a former high-scoring player for Canada’s national teams.

 

Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James, center. is thrilled to have Willie O’Ree and Jayna Hefford join her.

Hefford becomes the sixth woman to enter the Hall, further answering the question James asked in her 2010 induction speech: “Who is next?”

“I think we’re finally almost up to a full table,” James said Sunday after skating in the Hall of Fame induction weekend’s Legends Game. “After the inductions and stuff, we can sit around and reminisce and talk about things just like the guys can. The more women there are, the better memories and times we can share together.”

James and Hefford will share that stable with former Canadian Olympic team stars Danielle Goyette and Geraldine Heaney and former U.S. Olympians Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero.

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James, who was regarded as Canada’s female Wayne Gretzky during her heyday, is equally proud about O’Ree getting into the Hall, becoming its third black inductee, joining herself and former Edmonton Oilers goaltending great Grant Fuhr.

“All three of my kids wrote projects about Willie and I know my oldest son sent a tremendous letter in support of inducting Willie and I know for sure it went to the (Hockey Hall of Fame selection) panel,” James said. “It was a long time coming. He was a trailblazer back then and he’s a trailblazer now.”

O’Ree continues to make hockey history with his induction as the first person of color to enter the Hall as a Builder, a category reserved for coaches, general managers, broadcasters and others who are regarded as pillars of the game.

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O’Ree is credited with growing the game and creating a new generation of players and fans through his work as the NHL’s diversity ambassador and the “Hockey is for Everyone” program.

ORee played in 44 NHL games following his January 18, 1958 debut with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal. Despite the brevity of his NHL career – he had a lengthy and prolific minor league career that lasted  until 1978-79 – he’s earned the respect of NHL players.

“He’s what a builder is right out of the gate – you couldn’t make a better description of a builder,” said Fuhr, who became the Hall’s first black inductee in 2003. “When you see another person of color playing it gives you that thought that you can possibly play. It opens up a big door.”,.

O’Ree and Hefford enter the Hall Monday with New Jersey Devils goaltending legend Martin Brodeur,  former Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers sniper Martin St. Louis, Russian hockey star Alexander Yakushev, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. 

The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony will broadcast live on TSN2 in Canada and NHL Network in the United States.

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.

 

Willie O’Ree receives his Hockey Hall of Fame ring and long-deserved honor

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TORONTOWillie O’Ree got his Hockey Hall of Fame ring Friday and Pamela Houston got a thrill watching him get it.

“It’s almost like an Obama moment,” Houston, a member of the Ontario Black History Society said. “First black president, first black hockey player, finally getting recognition.”

O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player, will be formally inducted into the Hall Monday as a member of the 2018 class.

Willie O’Ree, right, shows off his Hockey Hall of Fame ring after receiving it from Hall Chairman Lanny McDonald (Photo/Courtesy Jeffrey Auger).

He’ll join New Jersey Devils goaltending legend Martin Brodeur,  former Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers sniper Martin St. Louis, Russian hockey star Alexander Yakushev, Canadian women’s hockey star  and Canadian Women’s Hockey League Commissioner Jayna Hefford and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as the Hall’s newest occupants.

The induction ceremony will broadcast live on TSN2 in Canada and NHL Network in the United States.

“This is about the highest award that I’d ever get as far as playing hockey and my work with the ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ program,” O’Ree, 83, said at Friday’s ring presentation ceremony. “I’m blessed.”

Each member of the Hall’s Class of 2018 received generous applause as they received their rings Monday. The clapping was a little louder when O’Ree got his.

“Long overdue,” McDonald told me afterward.

O’Ree has been the league’s diversity ambassador since 1996, traveling across the United States and Canada to visit youth hockey programs affiliated with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

O’Ree made history on Jan. 18, 1958, when he skated for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in the old Montreal Forum.

The right wing from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, only played 45 NHL games over two seasons with the Bruins, tallying 4 goals and 10 assists.

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He had a long and productive minor league career, finishing as the 16th all-time leading scorer in the old Western Hockey League with 328 goals and 311 assists in 785 games, despite being blind in his right eye.

He’ll become the third black person enshrined in the Hall, joining Edmonton Oilers goaltending great Grant Fuhr and Angela James, a Canadian women’s hockey superstar who was regarded as a female Wayne Gretzky.

O’Ree will continue his trailblazing ways by becoming the first person of color to be inducted in the Hall as a Builder, a category reserved for those who have contributed to the foundation of the game.

His plaque will keep company with revered names like Herb Brooks, the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic men’s team hockey coach, “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcaster Foster Hewitt, Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch,  and Conn Smythe, who built the Toronto Maple Leafs into five-time Stanley Cup champions between 1945 and 1951.

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“Those are some pretty big names, and Willie richly deserves to be there,” McDonald said. “You can build in different ways. You can be an owner who’s a phenomenal philanthropist, a great visionary for his hockey team. Or you can be Willie, who has lived a life of setting an example, and such a great example, for so many young people and so many of the older generation to say ‘Wow, this guy is richly deserving of this honor.'”

Avry Lewis-McDougal, host of “Avry’s Sports Show” podcast and YouTube channel, agreed. Like Ryrerson’s Cummings, he was all smiles Friday as he watched O’Ree receive his Hall of Fame ring.

“It finally means the game is truly growing, it means we’re finally seeing true diversity in the fact we have Willie O’Ree in it (Hall of Fame), women in it,” McDougal said. “It’s incredible because we’ve waited so many years for Willie O’Ree to be in the Hall of Fame – for decades. And the fact that people finally said ‘You know what, this is wrong, Willie needs to be in here’ and the fact that the push finally worked, it’s incredible. It’s great to see.”

Kia Cummings, a 21-year-old Ryerson University sports media senior from Toronto, who interviewed O’Ree Friday as part of a documentary project said she wouldn’t be interested in hockey if it weren’t for him.

“As a Canadian, as a woman of color, as someone who is passionate about  hockey, I wanted to take the opportunity to honor him,” she said. “It’s meeting the person who made your dreams a possibility…I have a passion for hockey that goes so much further. If I want to work within a hockey organization I can do that because Willie did it before me.”

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Rod Braceful scores a coveted USA Hockey job. Assist to John Vanbiesbrouck

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Rod Braceful scored a plum job with USA Hockey. Give an assist to John Vanbiesbrouck.

Braceful, a 30-year-old former player from Detroit, Michigan, was named assistant director of player personnel for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program earlier this month.

Rod Braceful, assistant director of player personnel for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

Braceful, who was director of scouting last season for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, was the top choice from a large applicant pool for the NTDP job that he almost landed last season.

When Rick Comley Jr. left the assistant director of player personnel post to take an amateur scout position with the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes this season, Braceful jumped at the chance to reapply for the job.

“I told them that ‘I’m all in and I’m happy,'” Braceful said of his reaction when USA Hockey offered him the job. “It was a good call to have. There’s a lot of good, qualified people in the game looking for jobs, and there are not a lot of jobs.”

The NTDP position is more than just a job – it’s a launching pad. The last five assistant and chief player personnel directors have moved on to NHL jobs.

“Every person who really loves the game of hockey, of course, see themselves being part of the NHL, whether it’s playing or working,” Braceful said. “My playing career, which was short, I knew there was no way I could play there. But, of course, I’ve had thoughts of working there.”

Rod Braceful worked as director of scouting for John Vanbiesbrouck when he was general manager of the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks (Photo/Michael Caples/MiHockey).

Braceful’s resume spoke volumes to USA Hockey’s brain trust:  a scouting director for a USHL team; Midwest hockey director for Legacy Global Sports, where he organized and led camps for Selects Hockey; a former coach in Michigan’s famed Little Caesars and Compuware youth hockey programs; a former player and coach at NCAA Division III New England College.

“The goal of the job is to identify, evaluate, educate top American players for our program,” Kevin Reiter, the NTDP’s director of player personnel. “He’s done that for numerous years.”

While Braceful’s credentials did a lot of the talking, Vanbiesbrouck, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director for hockey operations, also lobbied on his behalf.

Vanbiesbrouck, a former NHL All-Star goaltender, had first-hand knowledge of Braceful’s abilities because he was general manager of the Lumberjacks before taking the USA Hockey gig in May.

“He worked hand-in-hand with John last year in building that (Muskegon) team, so he had a familiarity with the league and the players and the talent needed in that league,” Reiter said. “Beezer was really an advocate for him, and rightfully so, he did a great job. But there was a lot more to our digging and our homework to make sure we were making the right choice.”

John Vanbiesbrouck, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director, recommended Rod Braceful for the assistant director of player personnel job with the National Team Development Program (Photo/USA Hockey).

Vanbiesbrouck gave Braceful one of the ultimate compliments in the sport, calling him “a good hockey person.”

“I wanted Kevin to keep an open mind, but I definitely recommended him,” Vanbiesbrouck told me. “I wanted Rob to get the job, for sure. He does great work, he’s very personable. People like Rod and that element in recruitment is important to the position.”

“I think he’s got a great knowledge for hockey, he knows the game well. I think that, in a lot of ways, we think of the game very similar,” Vanbiesbrouck added. “For a young to have the knowledge that he has and to be all-in is a good combination, and that’s why I categorize him as a hockey guy.”

Rod Braceful began playing recreation hockey as a kid in Detroit and played NCAA Division III hockey at New England College (Photo/Courtesy Rod Braceful).

USA Hockey’s hiring of Vanbiesbrouck was controversial. In 2003, when he was coach and general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Vanbiesbrouck called his then-19-year-old defenseman Trevor Daley the N-word.

Vanbiesbrouck, discussing the episode with The Athletic’s Scott Burnside in August, said that he’s sorry and regrets using the word. He added that the incident “hasn’t defined my life” and that he’s a “very inclusive person.”

“So you ask the question, what have you done, what have you done?” he told Burnside. “I’ve done a lot of things. No. 1 is I had to repent…and ask God for forgiveness because I live by faith and I violated my own principles. And I know that.”

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Braceful said working in Muskegon with Vanbiesbrouck, a fellow Michigander, was “a fine” educational experience.

“He was a good person to work under just because he has so much knowledge of the game from all the different parts of it,” Braceful said. “He had done some work with USA Hockey in the past and present. He knew the ins and the outs in dealing with the USHL as well as what they do with USA Hockey. And he knows a lot of people. You know what? He taught me a lot, as well as a lot of other guys at Muskegon.”

Rod Braceful started playing hockey at a young age, but didn’t get serious about the game until high school (Photo/Courtesy Rod Braceful).

Braceful has also learned from a few hockey coaches of color, particularly Jason Payne, the first-year assistant coach of the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, Jason McCrimmonhead coach and owner of Detroit’s Motor City Hawks of the U.S. Premier League, and Duante’ Abercrombie, the rookie head coach of the Washington Little Capitals 16U National Team, a youth program with a track record of developing players for junior, college and professional hockey teams.

He also can talk hockey with family. His older cousin, Cameron Burt, was a star player for NCAA Division I Rochester Institute of Technology from 2008-09 to 2011-12 and currently plays professionally in Slovakia.

Former Rochester Institute of Technology hockey star Cameron Burt is the cousin of Rod Braceful, the new assistant director of player personnel for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

“I’ve actually had the pleasure of knowing and learning from some older guys who were able to take me under their wings and be kind of distant mentors,” Braceful said. “There have been guys doing good things around. I think maybe now, they’re starting to be noticed.”

“They’re just trying to make their own way in the game, they just want to make sure they do a good job, they want to be the best,” he added. “And just keep working their way up the ladder.”

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Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon play together on the same team – Kenya’s

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Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby and Colorado Avalanche sniper Nathan MacKinnon were traded – to Kenya.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby.

Crosby and MacKinnon donned the jerseys of the Kenya Ice Lions and skated with the 12-member team from the African nation in Toronto.

Tim Hortons helped arrange the Lions’ trip to Toronto and surprised the team with visits by Crosby and MacKinnon.

“It is a dream to not only have the chance to play in Canada, but to play – for the first time – in full gear alongside two of the greatest players of the game,” says Benard Azegere,  the Ice Lions captain said in a statement about the event. “When we first started playing in Kenya, we didn’t even have full equipment, but now not only do we have that, we can say we’ve played a real game with some All-Star teammates.”

Crosby said that having Kenyan players on ice is further proof that Hockey is for Everyone.

“I was honored to be able to join the Ice Lions as they played their first game against another team,” Crosby said. “One of the things I love about hockey is how it’s able to reach so many people from so many countries around the world and bring them together.”

Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon.

The Kenyan players skate twice a week at a rink at the Panari Sky Center Hotel in the capital of Nairobi, according to Adweek. There aren’t enough players in the African nation to put a second team on ice, so the Kenyan hadn’t faced another team until their trip to Canada.

In addition to bringing the ice Lions to Canada, Tim Hortons made a donation to Kenya’s youth hockey league to help the sport grow in that country.

“In Canada – and as a company – Hockey is part of our DNA,” Jorge Zaidan, Head of Marketing, Tim Hortons Canada said. “We are so inspired by the story of the Lions. Despite having no other teams to play against, the players on the Kenya Ice Lions’ passion for the game is unwavering. Their shared passion and love of the game knows no borders.”

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New icemen cometh at ginormous sports facility in Washington Capitals’ backyard

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As former football players, Kendrick F. Ashton, Jr., and Craig A.A. Dixon never envisioned being on the same line with Washington Capitals super star Alex Ovechkin.

But there the two were, flanking Ovechkin in hockey face-off pose last year. But instead of sticks and hockey helmets, the makeshift line had shovels in their hands and hardhats on their heads.

Ovechkin was on hand for he groundbreaking of The St. James, a recently-opened 450,000 square-foot sports complex in Springfield, Virginia, co-founded by Ashton and Dixon, two young African-American entrepreneurs who dreamed – and succeeded – in building a gym on steroids.

The St. James co-founders Craig A.A. Dixon, left, and Kendrick F. Ashton, Jr., at one of the two NHL-sized ice rinks inside their 450,000 square-foot sports facility in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Hockey is front and center at the massive facility that includes a 50-meter Olympic-size pool, a three-story, 50,000-square-foot health club, four full-length basketball courts, eight squash courts, and a field house with a FIFA regulation-sized turf field.

The St. James features two NHL-sized ice rinks that offer an array of hockey, hockey coaching,  and leagues for all playing levels in addition to ice-dancing, figure skating, and speedskating.

There are a handful of ice skating rinks in North America named after black people, but there are very few that are black-owned and operated.

The twin ice rinks at The St. James will help alleviate an ice shortage in the hockey-mad Washington, D.C., area.

Ashton, 42, and Dixon, 43, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., knew little about hockey before building their facility, but they’ve grown to love the game since.

“We walk in there all the time and we see these two gleaming, beautiful rinks, it just makes you want to get out on them,” Dixon said.

Enough for the co-founders and co-executive officers to lace up the skates for a few laps?

“No,” Dixon replied. “I know this is the Color of Hockey – I don’t know how to skate on hockey skates, but I plan to learn.”

“We’ve developed a real appreciation of the game and become quite passionate about it as fans,” Ashton added.  “We’ve tempered our desire to hurt ourselves on the ice, we’re taking that slowly, but we will be out there.”

Kendrick f. Ashton, Jr., left, with Washington Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin, and Craig A.A. Dixon at The St. James’ groundbreaking in 2017.

The twin rinks are a godsend in a D.C., Northern Virginia, Maryland area that has a voracious hockey-playing appetite – both youth and adult – and a severe rink shortage, exacerbated by a January 2017 fire that shuttered Maryland’s Tucker Road Ice Arena.

While access to the St. James’ rinks is largely based on facility membership, Ashton said “we are very much committed to and very interested in everybody having access to everything.”

“Whereas having kids of color may not be a particular focus point for other (rink) owners, I don’t know if it is or isn’t, it may not be, it certainly is for us,” Ashton added.  “We’re going to do what we can to make sure that kids are exposed to the greatness of this game.”

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin takes a skate on one of the rinks at The St. James.

And the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup, with the help of forward Devante Smith-Pelly’s playoff heroics, has increased the demand for ice time in the area.

“The excitement that that run created in this town was palpable” Dixon said. “And that was across demographics, across races, across ages because everyone loves a champion. When they won the Cup and you looked at the scenes from news broadcasts of people out in the streets, it was the whole city. It wasn’t just one particular group of people out there celebrating that championship, and I think that is the new hockey fan in this town and, I’m sure, in many towns across the country.”

Craig A.A. Dixon, left, with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Kendrick F. Ashton, Jr., at The St. James’ opening.

Ashton and Dixon aren’t strangers to rough-and-tumble sports. Ashton played football for The College of William & Mary and Dixon played high school football while growing up in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The two men developed a friendship while students W&M, forged by their athletic experiences growing up in areas where quality facilities weren’t always accessible. That, and their shared love of business, led to the St. James concept.

“When we were young people, we were multi-sport athletes, and we were fairly serious about it, and we couldn’t quite understand why we very often ran into issues playing sports,” Ashton said. “We’re sure there are many kids of our generation who had trouble getting on ice, had trouble getting in pools.”

So Ashton and Dixon are trying to rectify that 450,000 square feet at a time. The Springfield mega-complex won’t be a one-and-done if its co-founders have their way. They’ve already purchased land in the northern Chicago suburbs and hope to have a similar facility built there in 2021.

“We’re looking at all the major markets in the country,” Ashton said. “We’re actively engaged in trying to lock down great sites in every one of them.”

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Willie O’Ree, hockey history-maker, tours Smithsonian’s African American museum

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The history-maker took a walk through history Wednesday.

Willie O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player and soon-to-be Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., for the first time.

O’Ree, along with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, saw artifacts and exhibits that chronicle the black experience from slavery to the segregationist Jim Crow period to the civil rights era to today’s times.

O’Ree, the NHL’s diversity ambassador for the league’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative, eyed tributes to game-changers like him, including a statue of a sliding Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Future Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Willie O’Ree examines a statue honoring baseball great Jackie Robinson at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (Photo/Anthony Wright/National Museum of African American History and Culture).

“What black people had to go through then,” O’Ree, 82, told me. “We take a lot of things for granted but, boy, if you went through that museum it would open your eyes up – it definitely would.”

The tour left Bettman awed and inspired as well.

“I thought it was amazing,” the commissioner said. “I’m a history buff, there is an incredible amount that I learned, there’s more to be learned, and I look forward to going back.”

Willie O’Ree, left, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman listen to Damion Thomas, sports curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, discuss an exhibit in the facility (Photo/Anthony Wright/National Museum of African American History and Culture).

The commissioner noticed one thing that the museum is missing: hockey.

“Among the sports, hockey doesn’t have a presence and, perhaps, we’d like to see one,”  Bettman said. “I think we have a story to tell as well. And most people aren’t aware of that story. And to have an opportunity to tell it as part of the overall museum…having a place among the other sports would not only be appropriate but would be good for people to know.”

Damion Thomas, the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s sports curator, said hockey “is an area we would like to collect around and it’s something that we’re planning on doing in the future.”

Thomas was thrilled to have living history in the museum in the form of O’Ree, who became the NHL’s first black player on Jan. 18, 1958, when he skated for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in the old Montreal Forum.

“I love sharing this history with everyone but it takes on a different meaning when you’re able to share this history with a history-maker and to be able to see how he responds to moments that he lived through and how he’s able to contextualize his own experiences within this much larger moment and space in time,” Thomas said.

Willie O’Ree made history when he entered the NHL with the Boston Bruins in January 1958.

He added: “One great things is that when you come to our museum it helps provide context to a lot of things Willie O’Ree went through and a lot of the challenges that he faced and how different aspects of society responded to those challenges.”

Embed from Getty Images

O’Ree will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Nov. 12, along with Bettman, former New Jersey Devils goaltending great Martin Brodeur,Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis, Russian hockey star Alexander Yakushev, Canadian women’s hockey star Jayna Hefford.

O’Ree, a right wing from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, only played 45 NHL games over two seasons with the Bruins, tallying 4 goals and 10 assists.

He enjoyed a long and productive minor league career, finishing as the 16th all-time leading scorer in the old Western Hockey League with 328 goals and 311 assists in 785 games, despite being blind in his right eye.

But O’Ree became Hall-worthy for his accomplishments off the ice. He has helped cultivate a generation of minority hockey players and fans by working tirelessly as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador since 1996, traveling across the United States and Canada to visit youth hockey programs affiliated with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

O’Ree will become the Hall’s third black member, joining five-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender Grant Fuhr and women’s hockey superstar Angela James.

Video by Thomas Mobley/National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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Take a look at the players of color who’ve made NHL 2018-19 team rosters

The National Hockey League’s 31 teams have set their rosters ahead of the 2018-19 season’s opening day Wednesday.

Some 33 payers of color have made the cut to opening day. The league welcomes some fresh new faces, like diminutive scoring dynamo Kailer Yamamoto of the Edmonton Oilers, while familiar veterans like Nashville Predators defenseman and EA Sports NHL 19 cover athlete P.K. Subban, return to their teams.

Some are goal-scorers, some are goaltenders, some are grinders. Here’s a look at some of the NHL players of color you’ll see this season.

Note: Some players, such as Columbia Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones and New York Rangers center Cristoval “Boo” Nieves won’t be on the ice for a while. Jones is out with a knee injury. Nieves is recovering from a concussion:

Max Pacioretty, left wing, Vegas Golden Knights.

Matt Nieto, left wing, Colorado Avalanche.

Andreas Martinsen, left wing, Chicago Blackhawks.

J.T. Brown, right wing, Minnesota Wild.

Kailer Yamamoto, right wing, Edmonton Oilers.

Alec Martinez, defense, Los Angeles Kings.

Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, center, New York Rangers.

Brandon Saad, left wing, Chicago Blackhawks.

Madison Bowey, defense, Washington Capitals.

Malcolm Subban, goaltender, Vegas Golden Knights.

T.J. Oshie, right wing, Washington Capitals.

Devante Smith-Pelly, right wing, Washington Capitals.

Ryan Reaves, right wing, Vegas Golden Knights.

Auston Matthews, center, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Evander Kane, left wing, San Jose Sharks.

Wayne Simmonds, right wing, Philadelphia Flyers.

Mika Zibanejad, center, New York Rangers.

P.K. Subban, defense, Nashville Predators.

Carey Price, goaltender, Montreal Canadiens.

Jordan Greenway, left wing, Minnesota Wild.

Darnell Nurse, defense, Edmonton Oilers.

Ethan Bear, defense, Edmonton Oilers.

Brandon Montour defense, Anaheim Ducks.

Kyle Okposo. right wing, Buffalo Sabres.

Anthony Duclair, left wing, Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jujhar Khaira, left wing, Edmonton Oilers.

Trevor Daley, defense, Detroit Red Wings.

Gemel Smith, center, Dallas Stars.

Matt Dumba, defense, Minnesota Wild.

Seth Jones, defense, Columbus Blue Jackets.

Nazem Kadri center, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, left wing, Vegas Golden Knights.

Mathieu Joseph,right wing, Tampa Bay Lightning.