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.”

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

 

 

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.”

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

 

 

 

 

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.”

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, 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.”

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

More black coaches begin their climb up pro hockey’s ladder in the 2018-19 season

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The minority coaching tree in professional hockey is growing more branches.

Nearly half a dozen teams, from the minor leagues to the National Hockey League, have hired coaches of color ahead of the 2018-19 season.

“There’s always been a growth of people of color in hockey,”  former minor league player Jason Payne told me recently. “It was just a matter of time that guys who were playing elevated into coaching.”

Former minor league pro hockey player Jason Payne is a new assistant coach for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL.

The Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL named Payne its newest assistant coach earlier this week. The job is a homecoming of sorts for Payne, who was a forward for the American Hockey League’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and the ECHL’s Dayton Bombers in the 1999-2000 season.

“I had the privilege of playing in Cincinnati, and I know how much this city and these fans don’t just love – but live sports,” said Payne, 43. “Along with (Head Coach) Matt Thomas, we look forward to being a hard-working, skilled team, and helping shape these young prospects into the best players and people they can be in pursuit of their NHL dreams.”

And Payne hopes to join those prospects in the NHL someday as a coach.

“I’d love to coach in the NHL, it would be a great achievement,” he said. “To get there, you’ve got to pay your dues, earn your way there, show that you can work and grind it out. And that’s my goal: Work as hard as I can, the same thing I did as a player.”

Payne brings a hefty resume to the Cyclones, the farm team for the Buffalo Sabres and AHL Rochester Americans.

Cincinnati Cyclones Assistant Coach Jason Payne during his playing days with the ECHL Reading Royals (Photo/Courtesy Jason Payne).

He played professionally for 14 years in six different leagues, including 71 games in the AHL with the Mighty Ducks, Carolina Monarchs, Worcester IceCats, and St. John Flames. He also appeared in 132 ECHL games and 140 contests in the old United Hockey League.

A Toronto native, Payne served as player development coach for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League and general manager of the Georgetown Raiders of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

He coached the Toronto Patriots of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Mississauga Sens AAA program. Payne also owns the Precision Skating School in Toronto.

“Jason will make an immediate impact with the Cyclones,” Thomas said. “He comes recommended by the Buffalo Sabres organization, and his energy, knowledge, and passion for the game will benefit our organization as a whole.”

Kahlil Thomas, a boyhood friend of Payne’s, was hired as an assistant coach for the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits earlier this month.

Kahlil Thomas is an assistant coach of the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbitts and father of Niagara IceDogs forward Akil Thomas, a 2018 Los Angeles King second-round draft pick.

Thomas was a right wing who played nearly 700 games in nine pro leagues in three  countries. His U.S. stops included the old Central Hockey League’s Memphis RiverKings and Oklahoma City Blazers, the United Hockey League’s Flint Generals, and the Southern Professional Hockey League’s  Jacksonville Barracudas.

The 42-year-old Toronto native got into player development after retiring in 2008. He transitioned into a coach and general manager when he and his wife, Akilah, became part owners of the Oshawa RiverKings of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League.

The couple’s son, Akil Thomas, is a forward who was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round with the 51st overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“Kahlil is a proven guy who has played pro, he has a winning pedigree, he has played on organizations that have won championships, and we decided from day one when we were building our organization that we wanted character people within our organization,” Swamp Rabbits Head Coach Kevin Kerr said. “Kahlil bleeds character. He loves to win. He’s all about development. He can help balance me out and make me a better coach, and I wanted to surround myself with good people who could push me.”

Kerr begins his first season in Greenville, South Carolina, after he coached the SPHL’s Macon Mayhem in Georgia in 2017-18.

The Mayhem replaced Kerr in May by promoting Assistant Coach Leo Thomas – Kahlil’s younger brother and Akil’s uncle – to head coach.

Leo Thomas is new head coach of the Macon Mayhem of the SPHL.

Leo Thomas is currently the only black head coach in professional hockey in North America. He played 13 seasons of professional hockey – including four seasons in the SPHL between the Pensacola Ice Flyers and Mississippi RiverKings.

He played 777 games between in seven pro leagues, tallying 260 goals, 299 assists.

Leo Thomas, 36, had hoped that his brother would join him on the Mayhem coaching staff, but Kerr grabbed him for Greenville instead.

Kerr also convinced Shawn Thorns, a Charleston, South Carolina, native who is one of the few black head equipment managers in professional hockey,  to leave the Mayhem for the Swamp Rabbits.

New Macon Mayhem Head Coach Leo Thomas enjoyed a long and high-scoring minor league hockey career.

“Kahlil and Kevin also played together back in the day and it just happened to work out,” Leo Thomas told me in an email. “I told Kahlil he should take the job for sure.  Haha actually equipment guy also left for Greenville, too.”

July saw two former NHL players join the pro coaching fraternity. The New Jersey Devils tapped retired right wing Mike Grier to be an assistant head coach.

A Detroit native, Grier played 1,060 NHL games as a right wing from 1996-97 to 2008-09 for the Edmonton OilersWashington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, and San Jose Sharks.

Former NHL forward Mike Grier returns to the league as an assistant coach of the New Jersey Devils for the 2018-19 season (Photo/Courtesy Washington Capitals).

A 1993 St. Louis Blues ninth-round draft pick out of Boston University, Grier went on to score 162 goals, 221 assists and accumulate 510 penalty minutes in 1,060 NHL regular season games.

“He was a highly-respected teammate and had the ability to relate to all players with his personality, demeanor and experience,” Devils Head Coach John Hynes said in July. “These attributes will be valuable in communicating and developing our players, as we continue to build a strong culture.”

Grier joins a small group of coaches of color in the NHL that includes Scott Gomez of the New York Islanders, goalie coaches Sudarshan Maharaj of the Anaheim Ducks, and  Frantz Jean, of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Lightning video coach Nigel Kirwan.

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Former NHL tough guy forward Peter Worrell  hopes to make his way back to the NHL some day as a coach. He begins his trek this season as an assistant coach for the SPHL’s Fayetteville Marksmen.

Worrell accumulated more than 1,500 penalty minutes with the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche from 1997-98 to 2003-04.

“I contacted a lot of teams, in many leagues,” Worrell said. “When I first contacted the Marksmen and I talked to (Head Coach Jesse) Kallechy, it just felt right.”

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

 

The Color of Hockey podcast returns with Grant Fuhr talking about ‘Making Coco’

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The Color of Hockey podcast is back!

Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr is our guest. this episode. He discusses the new “Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story” documentary, what it was like winning five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers from 1984 to 1990, and who he thinks are the best goalies ever.

Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr (Photo/Derek Heisler)

“We had a lot of fun over the years, good, bad, and otherwise,” Fuhr said of his NHL career. “Most people don’t want their life up on the big movie screen, it took a little sell job on that. It’s fun to live your life, but it’s definitely different seeing up on the big screen.”

Hall of Fame center Wayne Gretzky, Fuhr’s teammate on those Edmonton powerhouse teams, calls Fuhr “the greatest goalie that ever lived.”

Fuhr compiled a 403-295-114 (ties) record and posted 25 shutouts in 868 regular season games with Edmonton, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis BluesLos Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames from 1981-82 to 1999-2000. He had a 92-50 record in 150 Stanley Cup playoff games, including six shutouts.

In addition to the five Stanley Cups, Fuhr won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame  in 2003, and was named one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players.

But his career wasn’t all amazing highlight reel saves and championships. The NHL suspended him for one year in 1990 after he admitted that he abused cocaine between 1983 and 1989. The league reinstated him after he served five months of the penalty. Still, it was a painful experience.

“The hardest part was living through it,” Fuhr says on the podcast. “The getting suspended, having what you love to do taken away from you, at that time, was hard.”

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“Making Coco” will have its world premiere at the Calgary International Film Festival on Saturday, September 29, as part of the festival’s closing gala. It will be televised on Canada’s Sportsnet in December. The film’s producer is still working on when and where it will be shown 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.

 

 

Washington Capitals’ black owners say Cup win helps expand hockey’s minority reach

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Sheila Johnson didn’t know much about hockey when she joined the Washington Capitals ownership group in 2009 beyond the fact that there weren’t many black people on the ice or in the stands. Or in the owner’s box.

“The problem that I had in the beginning was I just felt I was the only African-American,” she said. “Sitting up in the owner’s box I felt I was by myself, trying to understand the game and feeling part of the owners group…sometimes it’s hard to be the only one.”

Washington Capitals ownership partner Sheila Johnson believes that “We’ve got to get more people of color to the game, in the game, in the front office of the NHL,”

Johnson had company in the box when Earl W. Stafford joined the ownership team, but the two wealthy African-American entrepreneurs still struggled to shake that feeling of isolation.

“I knew of a Wayne Gretzky and a Bobby Orr, I heard of them,” Stafford said. “But I had no interest (in hockey) because I didn’t see us. I had no interest. It wasn’t for us. We didn’t play it.”

What a difference winning a Stanley Cup in a majority African-American city makes. Johnson and Stafford have developed into hockey aficionados and they see a growing interest in the game among people of color, sparked by the Capitals’ victory over the Vegas Golden Knights and the playoff heroics of Capitals right wing  Devante Smith-Pelly.

Washington Capitals ownership partner Earl W. Stafford shares a tender moment with the Stanley Cup.

“There were times I faked it and did all the high-fiving, I didn’t know what I was looking at, but I kept watching and kept watching,” she said of her early hockey education and evolution. “But this year, just seeing how the team has grown and progressed,  it got to be exciting because I really started to understand what was going on.”

She basked in the accomplishments of Smith-Pelly. He scored three goals in the final three games against the Golden Knights, including the smooth Game 5 third period tally that he slid  – while airborne – past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury that tied the game at 3.

The Capitals went on to win the Cup-clinching game 4-3. Smith-Pelly finished the playoffs with 7 goals and 1 assist in 24 games. The Capitals rewarded the third-line forward by re-signing him to a one-year, $1 million deal.

“He helped them win the game,” Johnson said of Smith-Pelly. “The thing that really bothered me was he wasn’t given the credit, the media credit. It was like he didn’t do anything. And these are the things we’ve got to correct.”

Johnson and Stafford say they’re doing their part to spread the gospel of hockey in the minority community. Johnson has used the personal touch, taking friends, business acquaintances, and employees of color to games as her guests.

“I’ve been able to bring new eyes and ears to the game,” she said. “A couple of friends of mine have young African-American children who have gotten into hockey, and gotten really good. I feel as though I’ve been able to do a service in that respect of really talking about and being part of the whole hockey scene now. There have been more and more people of color who have felt comfortable coming to the games.”

Stafford has taken a philanthropic approach. A faith-based nonprofit organization that he runs to help disadvantaged and under-severed people purchased 25 tickets for each Capitals home games and distributed them through D.C. area public schools to deserving children to expose them to hockey.

“I also offered them to young professionals – our young 25 to 45-to-50 -year-olds who now have grasped this thing and say ‘Well, I understand it better and it’s exciting,'” Stafford said.

Washington Capitals ownership partner Earl W. Stafford (right) and wife Amanda Stafford are all smiles with the Stanley Cup.

But there’s still more to do. Sure, Johnson and Stafford want people of color to witness and appreciate the skills of Smith-Pelly, Capitals defenseman Madison Bowey, Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds, Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban and other minority hockey players in the National Hockey League.

They also want minority fans to look beyond the action on the ice and see the possibilities on the business and coaching sides of the game – the final frontier for minorities in the sport.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to let people know that you can participate in the sport as a referee, in coaching, on the business side, even in the ownership, that that’s available,” Stafford said. “People talk about ‘We’ve got a black player.’ Let’s talk about black ownership, let’s expand that perspective.”

He added that “there also has to be education on both sides of the aisle.”

“We have to educate those who don’t look like us, those who feel that it’s just a white-only sport, those who would throw banana peels, and have them understand, like I just recently became aware of, the contributions that blacks have made from the 1890s on up in the (Canadian Maritimes) Colored League up there, and the participation and contributions that we continue to make,” Johnson said.

David L. Steward, co-founder and board chairman of World Wide Technology, owns a piece of the St. Louis Blues.

Johnson and Stafford are among three African-Americans who own stakes in NHL teams. David L. Steward, co-founder and board chairman of World Wide Technologyowns a piece of the St. Louis Blues.

The three are among the wealthiest African-Americans in the country. Johnson is chair and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, which has luxury properties in Virginia, Florida and Louisiana.

The co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, Johnson ranked 30th on Forbes magazine’s 2018 list of America’s richest self-made women.

She is also an influential figure in the sports world. Johnson is vice chair of  Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the Capitals, the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association, and the Washington Mystics of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

She’s president and managing partner of the Mystics and the only African-American woman to have ownership in three professional sports teams. Johnson also serves on the executive committee of the United States Golf Association.

Stafford is CEO and founder of the Wentworth Group LLC, a  Virginia-based private equity and consulting firm.

His nonprofit Stafford Foundation created The People’s Inaugural Project, which brought hundreds of disadvantaged people to Washington for President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

He served on the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities during Obama’s administration.  Stafford received the Horatio Alger Award in 2010.  

Stafford and Johnson are partners in a Washington Capitals franchise that has a rich history when it comes to black hockey players. Eleven have played for the Caps since the team’s inception in 1974-75.

Forwards Mike Marson and Bill Riley became the NHL’s second and third black players in the Capitals’ inaugural season. Center Reggie Savage made hockey history in 1992-93 when he became only one of five NHL players to score his first career goal on a penalty shot.

Washington Capitals forward Reggie Savage scored his first NHL goal on a penalty shot in 1992 (Photo/Washington Capitals).

Before Smith-Pelly became synonymous with Stanley Cup Playoffs excellence in Washington, there was right wing Joel Ward. In 2012, he scored a Game 7 overtime goal past Tim Thomas that eliminated the Boston Bruins from the playoffs and launched some Beantown fans into a racist social media frenzy.

In the 2015 playoffs, Ward scored a game-winning goal with one second left that beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.

Forward Donald Brashear gave the Capitals muscle with his fighting skills. Forwards Anson Carter and Mike Grier  provided goal-scoring.  Defensemen Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre and Jason Doig patrolled the blue line in their brief stints with the team.

Johnson and Stafford, who’ll receive Stanley Cup championship rings next month, hope to see more minority players and fans rocking the Capitals’ home red jersey in the future. They also hope that owner’s suites throughout the league become more diverse.

“We’ve got to get more people of color to the game, in the game, in the front office of the NHL,” Johnson said.

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

Some big questions for some players of color ahead of the 2018-19 NHL season

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National Hockey League training camps open this week and the season begins October 3 with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals facing the Boston Bruins.

The 2017-18 NHL season is chock full of interesting story lines involving players of color that are worth paying attention to. Here are a few:

N.Y. Islanders forward Joshua Ho-Sang starts the 2017-18 season with a clean slate with new coach and GM.

THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS AND JOSH HO-SANG. CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED? It’s safe to say that the Islanders and right wing  Joshua Ho-Sang, the team’s 2014 first-round draft pick, have fit as well as an ice skating rink inside Brooklyn’s basketball-perfect Barclays Center.

Previous Islanders management complained that Ho-Sang was too head strong and defensively insufficient, among other things. Ho-Sang griped that the old Islanders brain trust overlooked similar deficiencies of other players and unjustly banished him to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Isles’ American Hockey League farm team, while others skated scot free.

Well, there are new sheriffs on Long Island in General Manager Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Barry Trotz, who guided the Capitals to the Cup last season by getting the best out of superstar forward Alex Ovechkin, and they seem determined to make the Isles/Ho-Sang marriage work.

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Trotz and Lamoriello say Ho-Sang starts off with a clean slate under their regime And Ho-Sang appears to be singing from the same hymnal.

“Josh has to be part of our future,” Trotz told Stan Fischler last month. “He’s a talent who needs to be understood better than he has been. In this case, Lou will be good. My belief is that the kid has been misunderstood because he looks at the game differently.”

Ho-Sang told NHL.com that the new management has “been tremendous in working with me and talking to me. ”

“I really don’t want to get into what they’ve talked to me about, but it’s all been positive,” he told NHL.com. “Every conversation that I’ve had with them since the moment they became part of the organization has just been teaching.”

In addition to featuring a new attitude, Ho-Sang will feature a new number with the Islanders, if he makes the team, because notoriously old school Lamoriello has squashed players wearing high-numbered jerseys for 2018-19.

Ho-Sang wore No. 66 in previous stints with the Isles, which caused many hockey purists to lose their minds because it was Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux’s number during his glory years with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ho-Sang will wear No. 26.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds is in the final year of a six-year deal.

WHAT ABOUT WAYNE?  Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds enters the season in the last year of his six-year, $23.85 million contract. Talks about an extension with one of the team’s most prolific goal scorers have been slow, raising question about whether the Flyers are interested in jumping off and moving on from the “Wayne Train.”

Adding fuel to the speculation are the Flyers’ free agent signing of former Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James Van Riemsdyk and the late 2017-18 rise of  19-year-old center Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ 2017 first-round draft pick.

Like Simmonds, Patrick and Van Riemsdyk are net-front players who score bunches of goals by parking themselves in front of opposing goaltenders in hopes of tip-in shots or fat rebounds.

And Simmonds is coming off a down scoring season – sort of.  He had 24 goals and 22 assists in 75 regular season games last season and no goals and 2 assists in six Stanley Cup Playoff contests.

His 24 goals came after he scored 31 in 2016-17 and 32 in 2015-16. Some context here: Simmonds managed the 24 goals despite a laundry list of injuries that included a tear in his pelvic area, a pulled groin, fractured ankle, torn ligament in his thumb and a busted mouth twice. Still, he only missed seven games last season.

Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall insists that the team would like to retain Simmonds and Simmonds has indicated that he wants to finish his playing career in Philadelphia.

“For being injured, I didn’t have a bad season last year, but it’s still not to my best ability” Simmonds told reporters in August. “So we continue to talk, we continue to talk. It is what it is right now.”

Forward Nick Suzuki, a former Vegas Golden Knights 2017 first-round draft, was traded to Montreal.

WILL THE MONTREAL CANADIENS RIDE SUZUKI BACK TO THE PLAYOFFS? The Canadiens finally ended the Max Paciorietty saga Monday by trading the high-scoring left wing and team captain to the Vegas Golden Knights for center Nick Suzuki, who was a Knights’ 2017 first-round draft pick, forward Tomas Tatar, and a 2019 second-round draft pick.

The trade caused howls among many Canadiens fans who still suffer bad flashbacks from the the team swapping defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for blue-liner Shea Weber in June 2016 and shipping all-world goaltender Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in December 1995.

The Paciorietty trade may look lopsided sided now – he has 226 goals and 222 assists in 626 NHL regular season games – But the 19-year-old Suzuki is no slouch. He impressed the Golden Knights in the team inaugural training camp, though he didn’t make the team last season.

Instead, Suzuki lit it up with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League in 2017-18. He tallied 42 goals and 58 assists in 64 OHL regular season games. He had 45 goals and 51 assists in 65 games in 2016-17.

“Suzuki was the key piece because we like a young prospect that was picked 13th overall, which I believe at the time we had at 11 on our list,” Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin told reporters after the trade.

The question is when will Suzuki arrive in Montreal? The OHL is one thing, the NHL is another. Some prospects need time and patience – things that are often in short supply in in hockey-crazed Montreal.

WILL THE KIDS STICK? A number of highly-touted prospects who’ve already had a small tastes of the NHL are heading to training camps looking to stay in the big leagues.

Minnesota Wild rookie left wing Jordan Greenway had a dream season in 2017-18: Becoming the first African-American to play on a U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, skate for Hockey East champion Boston University, and play for the Wild in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Now the 21-year-old, Wild 2015  second-round draft pick has got to grind it out in training camp to land a permanent job in Minnesota.

“We’re just looking at his smarts, how he adjusts,” Wild first-year General Manager Paul Fenton told The Athletic at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. “Being able to play in the Olympics gave him a different dimension to where he was playing in college hockey. To turn pro and play in the playoffs, from afar I was watching and he looked like he adjusted to the pro game right away. That’s what we’re looking to see – how he was able to take the summer and take his maturity an go forward.”

Calgary Flames rookie forward Spencer Foo scored 2 goals in four NHL games last season.

The Calgary Flames are doing the same thing with right wing Spencer Foo and defenseman Oliver Kylington.

Foo, a high-scoring, highly-coveted free agent from NCAA Division I Union College, signed with Calgary in June 2017, appeared in four games with the Flames late in 2017-18 and scored 2 goals.

“It’s going to be a blast,” Foo told Canada’s Global News of the upcoming season. “First game of the season is always exciting whether it’s exhibition or not. I think everyone’s pretty pumped.”

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Foo spent most of the 2017-18 season with the Stockton Heat, the Flames’ AHL farm team, where he was third in scoring with 20 goals and 19 assists in 62 regular season games.

He was there with Kylington, a 21-year-old  blue-liner from Stockholm, Sweden. Kylington was the team’s seventh-leading scorer with 7 goals and 28 assists in 62 regular season contests.

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“There’s a spot available” on the Calgary roster, Kylington told The Montreal Gazette. “And it’s a lot of work to get that spot. I feel ready, I’ve been training hard this summer and putting a lot of grind in the gym and mentally preparing myself for this year and this camp.”

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

‘Making Coco’ documentary goes behind the mask of Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr

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Grant Fuhr was a man of few words during his National Hockey League career.

“Back then, five words was a long conversation for me,” Fuhr told me recently.

Grant Fuhr was Edmonton’s first-round draft pick in 1981.

Fuhr preferred to let his play in goal do the talking, winning five Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers from 1984 to 1990, capturing the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender in 1988, being named one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players, and becoming the first black player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

“The Great One,” Hall of Fame center Wayne Gretzky,  also vouched for his former Oilers teammate, calling him “the greatest goalie that ever lived.”

Fuhr tells his story with the help of Gretzky and other NHL legends in Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story,” a Sportsnet documentary that goes behind the mask of one of the league’s most acrobatic, dominating, and enigmatic goaltenders.

“I think the biggest thing is it’s a chance for people to see what my life was actually like,” said Fuhr, who was nicknamed “Coco” during his playing days. “There has always been speculation, guessing and such, and everybody thinks that the world is glamorous all of the time.”

Audiences will get a first glimpse of the film at a private screening in Toronto during the Toronto Film Festival on Tuesday, September 11. The documentary will have its world premiere at the Calgary International Film Festival on Saturday, September 29, as part of the festival’s closing gala.

“Making Coco” will be televised in December on Sportsnet in Canada. The film’s producer says he’s still working on when and where it will be shown in the United States and elsewhere.

“Grant’s often forgotten on those great Oliers team because there were so many great players,” said Adam Scorgie, producer of the documentary directed by Don Metz. “You had arguably one of the greatest players to ever play (Gretzky), one of the greatest leaders in Mark Messier and you forget how good Grant Fuhr was backstopping that team and all the boundaries he broke within the NHL.  He was the first black superstar, the first to win the Stanley Cup and the first black to be inducted in the Hall of Fame.”

The Oilers teams of Fuhr’s era were known for their offensive prowess, not their defensive skill. Yes, they had a Hall of Famer in smooth-skating offensive-minded defensman Paul Coffey, who states flatly in “Making Coco” that “I don’t block shots.”

The Oilers’ defense was its offense, which often left Fuhr to fend for himself at the other end of the rink.

“I licked my chops every time we were going to play them ’cause I knew I was going to get three or four two-on-ones guaranteed,” Tony McKegney, the NHL’s first black player to score 40 goals in a season, told me recently. “Well, we did and we would lose out there 7 to 4 or something like that. During those games, Grant would make five or seven spectacular saves. Obviously, Wayne and Messier and Glenn Anderson were the story, but if you asked them today they would admit they had four guys up the ice all the time to score knowing Grant was back there.”

Grant Fuhr won five Stanley Cups during 10 seasons with the offensively-gifted Edmonton Oilers. On many nights, the netminder nicknamed “Coco” had little help defensively.

Because of Edmonton’s go-go offense and gone-gone defense, Fuhr has a career goals-against average of 3.38 – the highest among all Hall of Fame goaltenders.

Other Hall inductees with regular season GAA’s over 3.00? Georges Vezina (3.28) – yeah, the trophy guy- and the New York Islanders’ Billy Smith (3.17), who has four Stanley Cup rings to Fuhr’s five.

Fuhr compiled a 403-295-114 (ties) record and posted 25 shutouts in 868 regular season games with Edmonton, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames from 1981-82 to 1999-2000. He had a 92-50 record in 150 Stanley Cup playoff games, including six shutouts.

And Fuhr wouldn’t be a true Oiler if he didn’t provide some offense. His 46 points – all assists – that places him third among NHL goalies behind Tom Barrasso’s 48 points and soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee Martin Brodeur’s 47 points. Three of Brodeur’s points are goals that he actually scored or was given credit for.

Fuhr’s accomplishments aren’t bad for a player who many hockey experts thought was overweight, broken-down, and washed up when the Blues signed him in 1995-96.

He revived his career in St. Louis, thanks in large part to training with Bob Kersee, a world-class African-American track coach and husband of U.S. Olympic track Gold Medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

After appearing in only 49 games for three different teams in 1993-94 and 1994-95, Fuhr played in a whopping 79 games in 1995-96 and 73 contests in 1996-97 for the Blues and posted a 63-55-27 record in those two seasons.

Grant Fuhr shows off the bling from five Stanley Cup championship rings won with the Edmonton Oilers (Photo/Derek Heisler/www.derekheisler.com).

“It saved my body, it got my body through a lot,” Fuhr said of the training. “The body was good, but it became so much better. And I got a better understanding of it, what I was capable of, and how I could play around certain injuries.”

Fuhr’s legacy and longevity captivated another goaltender of color, Fred Brathwaite, who became a teammate in Fuhr’s final NHL season in Calgary.

Growing up in Ottawa, Brathwaite so idolized Fuhr that he put up a poster of the veteran goaltender in his bedroom at his mother’s house, where it still hangs today.

“Just the way he could raise his game to the level it could be,” said Brathwaite, a Hockey Canada goalie coach who was the New York Islanders’ goalie coach last season. “He might let in a goal or two, but when it came down the final thing, he’d raise his game up to help his team win Stanley Cups, or Canada Cups, and all those other things. I was very fortunate, very lucky, to play with him in his last year of hockey.”

Former NHL goalie Fred Brathwaite is such a Grant Fuhr fan that he keeps a poster of the five-time Stanley Cup winner in the bedroom of his boyhood home in Ottawa. The two became teammates on the Calgary Flames in Fuhr’s final NHL season in 1999-2000 (Photo/Fred Brathwaite).

Fuhr considers considers himself lucky, despite the ups and downs he experienced in his life and career.

The child of black and white biological parents, he was adopted by a white family in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada, and was lured to the net by all the neat gear that goaltenders wear.

Small town Spruce Grove and Western Canada served as an incubator of sorts for Fuhr in the early stages of his career.

He said he never really experienced racial hostility on or off the ice the way players like forwards Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington CapitalsWayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban have endured in recent seasons.

“The Great One,” former Edmonton Oilers center Wayne Gretzky, calls Grant Fuhr the greatest goalie ever in “Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story.”

Fuhr thinks that the NHL’s first generation of black players – forwards Willie O’Ree, Mike Marson, Bill Riley, Val James, and McKegney ran that gauntlet for him.

“Some of the (minority) guys that played in the minors in the states, they did all the heavy lifting,” Fuhr said. “Guys like Val James, Bill Riley, Mike Marson, they did the heavy lifting, they went through all the abuse.”

He said he didn’t feel or sense racism’s sting until he was traded to the Sabres in 1992-93 and after a suburban country club where other Sabres players and team officials were members initially denied him membership.

Retired Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla being interviewed about what it was like being an opponent and later a teammate of Grant Fuhr in “Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story).

“The more you traveled in the states, the more you could see it (racism). You live in an element where race matters a little bit and people have some pointed views on it,” he said.  “You would think that as time progresses and as history progresses that it would get better. And, if anything, in the last for or five years, it has taken steps backwards.”

Fuhr doesn’t shy away in the film from discussing perhaps the lowest point in his career – a one-year suspension by the NHL in 1990 after he admitted that he abused cocaine from 1983 to 1989. The league reinstated him after he served five months of the penalty.

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“I went to the school of life and, unfortunately, not everything runs as smoothly as it’s supposed to. You make mistakes along the way, and there’s a great price to pay,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is that I lived life – good, bad and otherwise.

“I wasn’t sheltered from anything. I didn’t protect myself from anything. So, yeah, you can make mistakes and still have a positive life out of it,” he added. “There are things in school that they don’t teach you. The only way to learn ’em is by falling on your own. Yeah, I tripped and fell on my face a few times.”

But from the falls, Fuhr said he’s now able to teach others on how to avoid stumbling.

“Kids that I help out now, talk to and such, I get a little bit of credibility because of having been through it instead of someone telling them ‘Hey, this is how it has to be’ having never been through it.  Having been though it, and been through it in a public way, I get a little more credibility from them.”

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