Blake Bolden returns to the NWHL, signs with Buffalo Beauts

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Blake Bolden is back in the National Women’s Hockey League.

After two seasons with the Boston Pride, defenseman Blake Bolden is playing this season with HC Lugano (Photo/NWHL).

The 27-year-old two-time NWHL All-Star defenseman from Ohio signed with the Buffalo Beauts Wednesday after playing last season for HC Lugano in Switzerland.

“My decision was made pretty quickly,” Bolden told The Buffalo News at the city’s HarborCenter Wednesday. “I had been going back and forth on where I wanted to play next season. I had no idea, and it just felt right about Buffalo. I think it’s going to be a great decision, a great move for me.”

Bolden made the move to Switzerland to get a taste of international hockey and cure a case of wanderlust after she didn’t receive an invite from USA Hockey to attend training camp for the U.S. women’s team that competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in February.

Defenseman Blake Bolden is bringing her talents back to the NWHL after playing one season in Switzerland (Photo/Courtesy HC Lugano).

“I just wanted a fresh start, something I’ve never done before, a new experience,” Bolden told me last November before heading to Lugano. “I’ve played in every league I could possibly play in North America. I didn’t think it was time for me to quit and I really wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone and experience new things and be able to travel in a basically different environment.”

From her native Ohio to Boston to Lugano and now to Buffalo. Oh, the places hockey has taken defenseman Blake Bolden (Photo/Courtesy HC Lugano).

The former Boston College team captain responded by tallying 16 goals and 11 assists in 20 regular season games for Lugano in 2017-18. She added a goal and 3 assists in six playoff contests.

Bolden is a trailblazer in women’s hockey. She was the first African-American to play in the NWHL and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She was an All-Star and won the Clarkson Cup in 2014-15 with the CWHL’s Boston Blades.

She hoisted the NWHL’s Isobel Cup championship trophy in 2015-16 season and earned All-Star honors with the Boston Pride.

Beauts General Manager Nik Fattey said signing Bolden was a no-brainer.

“Great player. Big shot, Really good reports on being a great teammate and a hard worker…,” Fattey told The Buffalo News. “It just seemed like a good fit.”

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Caps’ Smith-Pelly does the rounds with Stanley Cup at Toronto area pub, hospital

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Talk about Soul on Ice.

Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly had a cool day with the Stanley Cup Monday complete with an ice sculpture likeness of him in at a Scarborough, Ontario, pub hoisting the treasured trophy.

Washington Capitals right wing Devante-Smith Pelly.

Hundreds of fans braved torrential rain in the Toronto area to venture to the Black Dog Pub to get a glimpse of the Cup and the man of the hour.

“When I saw it start to rain, I didn’t know what to expect,” Smith-Pelly told NHL.com. “To see the line of people snaked around and down the block, I’m so excited…I  mean, you want to bring the Stanley Cup where you grew up. I grew up right down the street from here and used to come here and hang out.”

Chris Stewart, a forward who skated for the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames last season, was among the water-logged faithful at the Black Dog.

“He’s come a long way. I’m proud of him,” said Stewart, who has 160 goals and 161 assists in 652 National Hockey League games. “He stuck it out and now he’s on top.”

How cool is this? Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly and an ice sculpture likeness of him with Stanley Cup (Photo/Courtesy Phil Prtichard/HHOF).

The Black Dog Pub wasn’t Smith-Pelly’s only stop with Stanley on Monday. He took the Cup to downtown Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and showed off the trophy to family and close friends in private moments.

Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff’s most valuable player, but Smith-Pelly also had a heroic Stanley Cup run.

Devante Smith-Pelly with Toronto Mayor John Tory, left, and some young hockey fans (Photo/Courtesy Phil Pritchard/HHOF).

He tallied 7 goals and 1 assist in 24 playoff games; potted a goal in three consecutive Stanley Cup Final games against the Vegas Golden Knights; netted the game-winning goal in Game 4; scored the tying goal in Cup-clinching Game 5, a highlight reel kick-the-puck-onto-the-stick and fly-in-the-air snipe past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury; and the series-clinching goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Not bad for a guy who only scored 7 goals and 9 assists in 75 games and averaged 12:21 minutes of ice time per game during the regular season and 12:02 minutes per game in the playoffs.

Devante Smith-Pelly has a little quiet time with the Stanley Cup and his grandparents, who rocked the Washington Capitals red hockey jerseys (Photo/Courtesy Phil Pritchard/HHOF).

“There’s been some struggles,” Smith-Pelly told NHL.com. But at the same time, I’m not the first guy to go through it and I won’t be the mast. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to go out there and do what you have to do.”

Smith-Pelly’s playoff prowess made Capitals fans love him. And Smith-Pelly fell in love with Washington. So much so that he rejected contract offers from other teams with longer terms and more money to sign one-year, $1 million deal to return to the Capitals.

Ain’t no party like a Stanley Cup party. Washington Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly shares the Stanley Cup with some of his long-time buddies (Photo/Courtesy Phil Pritchard/HHOF).

“It wasn’t worth it to leave somewhere where I’m happy and somewhere where I really want to be,” Smith-Pelly told the Associated Press in June. “The money to me personally is not that important if I’m not going to be happy somewhere else.”

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Caps’ Madison Bowey shares Stanley Cup with Winnipeg rink, and grandma’s cooking

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What’s better than eating pierogies out of the Stanley Cup?

Washington Captials defenseman Madison Bowey.

Eating grandma’s pierogies out of the Cup, just like Washington Capitals defense Madison Bowey did during his designated day with the trophy in Winnipeg on Saturday.

Bowey shared the Cup with his family and Winnipeg’s Varsity View Community Club, which he credited with helping mold him into a National Hockey League player.

“My hockey career began here, at this great community club in this wonderful hockey city, and this is my chance to pay tribute to everyone who helped me get started, and encouraged me to keep going,” Bowey said, per Canada’s Global News.

Bowey didn’t play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the 23-year-old did appear in 51 regular season games as a rookie in the 2017-18 season. He didn’t score a goal, but he did register 12 assists.

Washington Capitals defenseman Madison Bowey samples some of grandma’s pierogies from the greatest serving bowl – the Stanley Cup (Photo/MParolin/HHOF).

The Capitals showed their faith in their 2013 second-round draft pick when they re-signed him to a two-year, $2 million deal earlier this month.

Bowey said he hopes bringing the Stanley Cup to his local rink will show younger hockey players that all things are possible.

Madison Bowey hoisted the Stanley Cup after the Capitals won it in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights. He lifted it again at his local rink in Winnipeg (Photo/MParolin/HHOF).

“Help the younger guys that are striving to be where I am right now, and I think if I can just come back and help out the community as much as I can, it goes a long way,” Bowey said, according to Global News.

Nothing says “Thank you” like bringing the Stanley Cup to where your hockey career began. Washington Capitals defenseman Madison Bowey did that on his Cup day Saturday (Pnoto/MParolin/HHOF)

Bowey and Caps forward Devante Smith-Pelly will become the eighth and ninth black players to have their names inscribed on the Stanley Cup.

Years before he won the Stanley Cup, Madison Bowey spent some quality time with it as a Hockey Hall of Fame visitor. And he has the picture to prove it (Photo/WNeubrand/HHOF).

Their names join those of goaltenders Grant Fuhr (Edmonton Oilers – 1984, 1985, 1987, 1998, 1990), Eldon “Pokey” Riddick (Oilers – 1990) and the late Ray Emery (Chicago Blackhawks – 2013), forwards Dustin Byfuglien(Blackhawks -2013) and  Jamal Mayers (Blackhawks-2013), and defensemen Johnny Oduya (Blackhawks-2013, 2015) and Trevor Daley (Pittsburgh Penguins – 2016, 2017).

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Hockey players of color tout talent – and diversity – at summer tournaments

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Two hockey teams of color literally took the show on the road this month to showcase  their skill and their commitment to making the game more diverse.

The women of the Brown Bears and the boys from the NextGEN AAA Foundation didn’t take home any championship trophies, but they still felt like winners because their presence at two New England tournaments proved a point.

“It’s just shows that hockey is for everybody,” Brown Bears co-captain Gina Weires told me. “It shows that we can do it.”

The Brown Bears assembled for the first time at the Hockey Fights MS 2018 Vermont Tournament (Photo/Courtesy Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips).

The NextGEN AAA Foundation team that played in the 2018 Chowder Cup in suburban Boston strikes a pose (Photo/Courtesy Dee Dee Ricks).

Weires and fellow co-captain Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips formed the Brown Bears to participate in the Hockey Fights MS Vermont Tournament.

The two friends wanted their team to be different. They wanted a roster of mostly minority women, something that they never experienced in their years of playing in the Maryland-Washington-Delaware-Virginia area.

“Seeing other hockey players of color around growing up, but very few, we felt that it was important that the ice surface is as diverse as the cities that we live in,” Bazinet-Phillips said. “Getting together the team, we hope to build a network of female hockey players of color, and then give female hockey players of color something to look forward to during the year in terms of coming to the tournament. But we also want to inspire them to go back to their local ice arenas and begin to build diversity at their rinks.”

But the first step for Bazinet-Phillips and Weires was building the Brown Bears’ inaugural roster.

Bazinet-Phillips, a Baltimore native who played NCAA Division III hockey at Maine’s Colby College, and Weires, a Washington, D.C., resident who played for and managed American University’s women’s club hockey team, reached out to the few minority players they knew and then brainstormed about where to find others.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney awkwardly stated that he had “binders full of women” who he could hire if he won the 2012 presidential election.

Weires and Bazinet-Phillips didn’t have binders, but they assembled a Google Doc with the names of 45 minority female hockey players who they could invite to join the Brown Bears, including some heavy hitters.

Brown Bears co-captains Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips, left, and Gina Weires racked their brains, searched the Internet, and even scoured The Color of Hockey, looking for players for their team (Photo/Courtesy Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips).

They contacted Sarah Nurse, who starred at the University of Wisconsin and won a Silver Medal playing for Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

They reached out to defenseman Blake Bolden, a National Women’s Hockey League and Canadian Women’s Hockey League champion who played last season on HC Lugano’s women’s team in Switzerland.

Nurse and Bolden couldn’t make it. But Jordan Smelker, a forward for the NWHL’s Boston Pride, and Toni Sanders, a forward who skated for NCAA Division I Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 2010-11 to 2013-14 did make it.

So did an 18-year-old who played high school varsity hockey and a 55-year old woman who started playing the game five years ago. In all, 12 women of varying skill put on the tie-dyed jersey with the big claw logo and played for the Brown Bears in Vermont.

The team didn’t win a game, largely because tournament organizers moved it out of the women’s division into a more competitive co-ed division because of the presence of Smelker, Sanders and other skilled players.

“We were moved to the second-highest division with predominantly males,” she said. “I think it kind of made the men’s heads spin, but I think they were also happy to have us there. There was a very positive aspect to their reaction.”

The players on the NextGEN team turned heads with their performance at New England’s Pro-Am Hockey’s 2018 Chowder Cup in suburban Boston earlier this month.

NextGEN players in action at 2018 Chowder Cup (Photo/Courtesy Dee Dee Ricks).

NextGEN – a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring, education and hockey programs to low-income and at-risk youth – fielded a team with some of the program’s elite players and sent them to the tournament through a sponsorship from Pure Hockey, the largest hockey equipment retailer in the United States.

The players came from across the U.S. and Canada and had never skated together. But once they hit the ice, it seemed like they had been playing together forever, NextGen founder Dee Dee Ricks said.

Tournament coach Khalil Thomas – head coach and general manager of the Oshawa RiverKings and father of 2018 NHL second-round draft pick Akil Thomas – and Program Director Jeff Devenney ran the players through a few practices and had them ready to go.

NextGEN lost in the tourney’s quarterfinals to the NW Huskies, the team that went on to capture the Chowder Cup championship.

The diverse NextGEN team takes a break during practice at the 2018 Chowder Cup tournament (Photo/Courtesy Dee Dee Ricks).

“It doesn’t really matter about the winning, if you could have seen these kids together. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ricks said. “Just in terms of the bonding, the jelling, the acceptance. Immediately, it was like they were life-long friends, coming together for the cause.”

Bryce Salvador, NextGEN’s NHL alumni ambassador and a former captain for the New Jersey Devils,  said the mostly-minority squad was just thrilled to have the experience.

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“It doesn’t happen so often when you get a team that’s as diverse like that at a high level,” said Salvador, who was the NHL’s third black team captain. “Just the ability for them just to spend time together was, in my opinion, more important than actually playing the game.”

That said, Ricks and the NextGEN brain trust showed as much competitive fire during the tournament as the team that it put on the ice.

“My son went out for three shifts in one of the last games that we were up. And one of the (opposing) kids asked him ‘Why are you playing with a bunch of black kids?'” recalled Ricks, who is white. “And John-John looked at him, and he goes, ‘Why are you losing to a bunch of black kids?'”

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 Jersey Devils hire former NHLer Mike Grier as an assistant coach

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The New Jersey Devils hired former National Hockey League forward Mike Grier as an assistant coach Monday, adding to professional hockey’s minority coaching ranks.

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

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.

Rugged forward Mike Grier had two stints with the Buffalo Sabres during his 14-season NHL career (Photo/Bill Wippert)

He collected 14 goals, 14 assists and 72 penalty minutes in 101 Stanley Cup Playoff contests.

“We are looking forward to having Mike join our organization,” said Devils Head Coach John Hynes. “Having played 14 years and over 1,000 NHL games as a forward, Mike will lean on his experience in leadership roles to work with our players. He was a highly-respected teammate and had the ability to relate to all players with his personality, demeanor and experience. These attributes will be valuable in communicating and developing our players, as we continue to build a strong culture.”

Football is the Grier family business. Mike’s brother, Chris Grier, is general manager of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins. Their father, Bobby Grier, served as director of player personnel for the New England Patriots and was a personnel advisor for the Houston Texans.

But Mike, despite having a football-esque 6-foot-1, 224-pound frame during his playing days, opted for the ice rink over the gridiron.

He became the NHL’s fourth U.S.-born black player. He followed Indiana native Donald Brashear, Maine’s Mike McHugh, and Ocala, Florida’s Valmore James who became the NHL’s first African-American player when he debuted with Sabres in the 1981-82 season.

James and Brashear were tough guys, on-ice enforcers known more for their fists than their scoring hands. McHugh played only 20 NHL games for the Sharks and Minnesota North Stars and scored only one goal.

Grier combined toughness with a scoring touch. He was the NHL’s first African-American player to score more than 20 goals in a season.

At Boston University, Grier notched 29 goals and 26 assists in 37 games in 1994-95 and helped power the Terriers to an NCAA Frozen Four championship. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the NCAA’s top men’s hockey player.

Grier played for Team USA at the 1995 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship and won a bronze medal skating for the U.S. at the 2004 IIHF Men’s World Championship.

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“It’s really something that I’m proud of, being one of the first to break through,” Grier told the Color of Hockey in 2014.  “The (minority) players who are coming up now are skill players who are contributing to their teams. It’s only natural to get more kids of color in the game.”

Barring any moves, Grier will be one of six NHL coaches of color when the 2018-19 season begins in October.

The others are goalie coaches Sudarshan Maharaj of the Anaheim Ducks, Frantz Jean, of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Fred Brathwaite of the New York Islanders.

Scott Gomez is on the Islanders coaching staff and Nigel Kirwan serves as a video coach for the Lightning.

Paul Jerrard was the only NHL coach of color to work behind the bench during games last season. The Calgary Flames fired Jerrard in April  and the NCAA Division I University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks hired him in May to be the team’s assistant coach.

Former NHL pugilist Peter Worrell was hired earlier this month as an assistant coach for the Fayetteville Marksmen of the South Professional Hockey League.

In May, the SPHL’s Macon Mayhem named Leo Thomas its head coach, making him the only black professional hockey head coach in North America.

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’s hockey tree grows another branch with Ayodele Adeniye’s rise

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To understand why Willie O’Ree is entering the Hockey Hall of Fame in November as a builder of the game look no further than Ayodele “Ayo” Adeniye.

Adeniye is the latest branch – and a very big one – from the O’Ree hockey tree to bear fruit.

U of Alabama-Huntsville 2020 hockey commit Ayodele Adeniye.

The 6-foot-5 defenseman from Columbus, Ohio, committed last week to play for the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers, an NCAA Division I team in the  Western Collegiate Hockey Association, beginning in the 2020 season.

In the meantime, he’s headed to Canada this fall to skate for the Carleton Place Canadians, a Junior A team in the Central Canada Hockey League.

The 19-year-old Adeniye said he’s achieving his dreams by following the hockey gospel according to O’Ree.

Adeniye first met the National Hockey League’s first black player when he was six years old and O’Ree visited the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, a part of the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” program.

“In terms of development, he was just a good role model because there are not a lot of (black people) in hockey,” Adeniye told me recently. “He was always the guy I asked questions and looked up to. I picked his brain a little bit.”

Six-year-old Ayodele Adeniye with Willie O’Ree at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit when the Columbus Ice Hockey Club played  in the “Hockey in the ‘Hood” tournament (Photo/Courtesy Ayodele Adeniye).

And Adeniye had ample opportunities to do it. His mother, Lisa Ramos, chauffeured O’Ree around whenever he visited Columbus.

“I probably met him over 15 times,”  Adeniye said. “For me, Willie getting into the Hall, to me, means the world.”

Ramos said her son bonded with O’Ree, in part, because of their shared history with vision issues.

O’Ree only played 45 NHL games over the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons with the Boston Bruins largely because he was blind in his right eye, the result of a deflected puck.

That didn’t prevent him from having a long and prolific minor league career, scoring 328 goals and 311 assists in 785 games in the old Western Hockey League.

Adeniye suffered from misaligned eyes, a condition that required several surgeries to correct, Ramos said.

“It’s not only the story of him being the first black hockey player, but everything he went through, the issue with his eye,” Ramos told me. “The other thing that Willie does, and it means so much to Ayo, is he always takes time to talk to him. You can see the stars in his eyes when Willie talks to him, even now.”

Defenseman Ayodele Adeniye was cut from the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA hockey program, but worked his way back onto the team (Photo/Courtesy Ayodele Adeniye).

Adeniye, whose father is from Nigeria, got interested in hockey around age three when he attended a skating birthday party at a local rink. He noticed a high school hockey game on an adjacent ice sheet and told his mom that’s what he wanted to do.

Ramos immediately said “no” because “I didn’t know anything about hockey at all.”

“My grandfather played in the Negro Leagues (baseball), my dad won the state in high jump in track and field, he won the state in cross country, he played basketball for the Army in Europe,” she said. “We had all these different sports, and hockey wasn’t one of them.”

Defenseman Ayodele Adeniye practicing with the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA team.

But Adeniye persisted. When his mother put him in a tyke basketball program, he moved about the court in ice skating motions instead of running like the rest of the children. Ramos got the hint.

“My mom  said ‘Whatever,’ put me in hockey, and I fell in love,” he said.

Hockey didn’t always love him back. At one point, Adeniye was cut from the Ohio AAA program. Instead of sulking, he remembered one of O’Ree’s favorite sayings: “If you can, you can. If you say you can’t, you’re right.”

He became a hockey nomad to improve his game. He joined the Cleveland Junior Lumberjacks U16 team of the Eastern Junior Elite Prospects League in 2014-15; the Florida Eels of the United States Premiere 3 Hockey League in 2015-16;  the USPHL’ s New Jersey Hitmen along with the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League’s North Jersey Avalanche U18 squad  and Iowa Wild AAA U18 team all in the 2016-17 season.

He returned to Columbus last season and played 33 games for the Ohio Blue Jackets, contributing a goal and 7 assists from the blue line. He had 30 penalty minutes.

Adeniye patterns his game after Columbus Blue Jackets All-Star defenseman Seth Jones.

Ayodele Adeniye hanging out with his favorite NHL player, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (Photo/Courtesy Ayodele Adeniye).

“One hundred percent. I want to consider myself a two-way defenseman, but I’m more of a defensive defenseman with offensive abilities, just like Seth,” Adeniye said. “He can join the rush every once in a while and he’s a pretty good lock-down defenseman. I try to play the same game. I look at his speed, I watch his positioning.”

He met Jones once and offered the 23-year-old NHL veteran a bit of advice: Watch your back.

“I told him, as a joke, ‘I’m taking your spot,'” he said. “‘Give me about five, six years, I’m taking your spot.'”

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. Download the Color of Hockey podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

 

 

 

 

Former Florida Panthers enforcer Peter Worrell joins pro hockey’s coaching ranks

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 Peter Worrell punched his way into professional hockey. Now he’s looking to coach his way back to the pros.

Worrell, who accumulated more than 1,500 penalty minutes as a left wing and enforcer for the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche from 1997-98 to 2003-04, was named assistant coach of the Fayetteville Marksmen of the single-A Southern Professional Hockey League last week.

Former Florida Panthers forward Peter Worrell in 2002.

A Panthers 1995 seventh-round draft pick, Worrell quickly turned to coaching after playing his last professional game with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers in 2005-06.

He returned to Florida the following season to become head coach of North Broward Preparatory School. He assumed additional responsibility in 2010-11 when he became bench boss of Florida Atlantic University’s American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division III team.

“When I ended my seasons last year, I made the decision I wanted to explore new challenges,” Worrell said. “I contacted a lot of teams, in many leagues. When I first contacted the Marksmen and I talked to (Head Coach Jesse) Kallechy, it just felt right. It was a big decision for me, as I was comfortable in my previous positions, but everyone in Fayetteville has been so welcoming and first class, I know I couldn’t have found a better position.”

And Kallechy believes that he couldn’t have found a better bench sidekick for the Fayetteville, North Carolina, team than Worrell.

“He blew me away in the interview process,” Kallechy said. “He was an excellent communicator, our views on player personnel aligned, and he is eager to learn and bring fresh viewpoints to the team.”

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Worrell will become the SPHL’s second black coach when the puck drops for the 2018-19 season. In May, the Macon Mayhem tapped Leo Thomas as its head coach, making him the only black professional hockey head coach in North America.

While the SPHL’s minority coaching numbers grow, the ranks of coaches of color in the National Hockey League declined following 2017-18 season.

The Calgary Flames let go veteran Assistant Coach Paul Jerrard, who was the league’s only minority coach to work behind the bench during games.

He wasn’t unemployed very long. The University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks hired Jerrard in May to be an assistant coach for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference team.

“He has a very good track record of developing players,” UNO Head Coach Mike Gabinet said. “I knew, first off, how good of a person he was having played for him. He was my (defense) coach. And when you’re a player, people always ask you afterward who’s influenced you as a coach.”

Jerrard, who played hockey for Lake Superior State University from 1983-84 to 1986-87, said he’s stoked about returning to the college game. He tallied 40 goals and 73 assists in 156 games as a defenseman for the Lakers.

“I’ve always loved college hockey, and I’m looking forward to working with and developing our players, not just in their careers but academically as well to help them prepare for success in the future,” he said.

The NHL’s remaining coaches of color are goalie coaches Sudarshan Maharaj of the Anaheim Ducks, Frantz Jean, of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Fred Brathwaite of the New York Islanders.

Scott Gomez is on the Isles’ coaching staff and Nigel Kirwan serves as a video coach for the Lightning.

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. Download the Color of Hockey podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, to be inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame

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Willie finally got the call from the Hall.

Willie O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player, received a call from the Hockey Hall of Fame Tuesday afternoon informing him that he’s a member of the Hall’s 2018 class.

“I was in tears,” O’Ree told me. “I’m walking on air, I can’t believe it. Unbelievable what this day has been, my God. It’s one of the greatest days I’ve experienced.”

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O’Ree, 82, will be formally inducted into the Hall in the Builder category on Nov. 12. The other 2018 inductees are former New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur,Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis, Russian hockey star Alexander Yakushev, Canadian women’s hockey star Jayna Hefford, and NHLCommissioner Gary Bettman.

O’Ree will become the Hall’s third black member. Edmonton Oilers goaltender Grant Fuhr, who won five Stanley Cup championships, was inducted in 2003. Angela James, a Canadian forward who is regarded as the “Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” followed in 2010, the first year the Toronto-based Hall began inducting women.

Whenever people asked O’Ree about his chances of someday getting into the Hall of Fame, he would calmly say “that would be nice” and add “whatever will be will be.”

However, the O’Ree household in San Diego was anything but calm Tuesday. O’Ree, Bryant McBride, a former NHL executive vice president, family members, and others nervously gathered in the kitchen at 7:30 a.m. Pacific Time to wait for the phone to ring.

“There were four or five of us in the kitchen, just looking at each other,” McBride said.

“We were just pacing back and forth,” O’Ree added. “We knew if there was a call, it was going to come in around noon. We had about four hours of pacing back and forth.”

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.

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.

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But O’Ree became Hall-worthy for his accomplishments off the ice. He 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.

So instead of seeking his Hall entry as a player, O’Ree’s supporters launched a drive for his induction in the hockey shrine’s Builder category, focusing on his contributions as a mentor, role model, and advocate in growing hockey in communities previously overlooked by the sport.

A Builder must exhibit “Coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general,” according to Hall rules.

O’Ree fits the criteria because he’s been an inspiration to a generation of young hockey players and hockey fans of color.

Willie O’Ree has the respect and awe of players across the NHL. From left to right: forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, now with the Vegas Golden Knights, Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, O’Ree, and former Flyers goalie Ray Emery (Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).

“This honor is long overdue as Willie has been a tremendous figure in our game both on and off the ice for over 60 years,” said Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs. “We are lucky to have been able to call Willie a Bruin when he made his debut in 1958 and we could not be happier for him to finally receive the recognition he so greatly deserves.”

O’Ree’s Hall admission is a testament to a grassroots movement of NHL players, past and present, elected officials across North America, and thousands of hockey fans who thought it an injustice that he wasn’t inducted years ago.

Brenda and David Sansom, longtime friends of Willie O’Ree, helped launch a public submission drive urging the Hockey Hall of Fame to induct that NHL’s first black player.

David and Brenda Sansom, friends of O’Ree from Fredericton, helped put together a 76-page public submission to the Hall’s Selection Committee. They also collected more than 300 letters, notes, and expressions of support on O’Ree’s behalf.

The Sansoms received letters from Karl Subban, father of Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban,Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Malcolm Subbanand LosAngeles Kings defensive prospect Jordan Subban; San Jose Sharks forwardJoel Ward; former NHLersDanny Grant and Mike EaglesBoston Mayor Marty Walsh; NewBrunswick Premier Brian Gallant; and Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien.

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

“Willie O’Ree’s story must not be forgotten,” Karl Subban wrote. “He made it possible to have the NHL dream and to believe they could achieve it. He changed hockey, which is now for everyone. Hockey needed him and so does the Hockey Hall of Fame. The time is right!

NHL players like Ward and Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds publicly pressed for O’Ree’s admission almost every chance they got. Simmonds penned an article in The Players’ Tribune in April, declaring that “Mr. O’Ree should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame…Mr. O’Ree should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday.”

The call to put O’Ree in the Hall also reached Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Hockey Caucus, took to the floor of the House of Representatives in March and called O’Ree “a trusted champion for diversity, a proponent of inclusion, and an inspiration for so many young players both on and off the ice.”

Fredericton Member of Parliament Matt DeCourcey told the chamber in February that “hockey fans around the world share the view that it is past due time that Willie O’Ree be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.”

O’Ree will get his time, and his due, in November.

“Unbelievable,” O’Ree said.

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Jermaine Loewen becomes first Jamaican-born player drafted by NHL team

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Jermaine Loewen became a first on Saturday. Now he’s looking for seconds.

Loewen, a towering left wing for the Kamloops Blazers, became the first Jamaican-born player chosen in a National Hockey League Draft when the Dallas Stars selected him in the seventh round with the 199th overall pick Saturday.

Jermaine Loewen, drafted by Dallas Stars (Photo/Kamloops Blazers).

“I cried when I got the call,” Loewen told Jon Keen, the play-by-play voice for the Western Hockey League Blazers.

If the 20-year-old from Mandeville, Jamaica, defies the odds and cracks the Stars’ roster, he’d become the NHL’s second Jamaican-born player. Graeme Townshend – a forward who played for the Boston BruinsNew York Islanders, and Ottawa Senators – was the first.

Townshend’s island heritage and hockey have merged as he’s the head coach of the Jamaican Olympic ice hockey team effort.

“I think about that a lot , it’s like, ‘aw, man, I want to be the second guy,’” Loewen told Canada’s Sportsnet of joining Townshend in hockey history books “I just really want to make that happen.”

Loewen was ranked as the 160th-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.  At 6-foot-4, 221-pounds, he was the Blazers’ leading scorer last season with 36 goals and 28 assists in 66 regular season games.

He notched 50 goals and 46 assists in 236 regular season games over four seasons with Kamloops.

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Loewen was one of the more remarkable stories of the two-day draft at Dallas’ American Airlines Center. 

Adopted from an orphanage in Mandeville, Jamaica, by a white family and relocated to rural Arborg, Manitoba, when he was five, Loewen didn’t lace on a pair of skates until he was six – late by Canadian standards.

He didn’t play his first organized hockey game until he was 10. But that didn’t stop him from getting drafted by the Blazers, a Canadian major junior team, six years later.

“Obviously when you start playing organize hockey at 10 when other kids start at six or seven, you’re way behind,” Townshend told me in 2016. “He’s made up a lot of ground in a very short period of time. That says a lot about his character.”

ISS Hockey, in its 2018 NHL draft scouting report, called Loewen “a raw player” with pro potential.

“Plays a very impressive game with good on ice smarts, He can be heavy on his feet, but there is no denying his ability to get the job done,” ISS Hockey wrote. “Loewen could turn into a Wayne Simmonds-type player.”

Loewen should be among the players attending the Stars development camp June 25-29 at StarCenter Frisco, the team’s practice facility.

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Jett Woo jets to Vancouver in 2nd round of 2018 NHL Draft

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DALLAS – The player with the movie star name heard it called in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Defenseman Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors was taken with the 34th overall pick of the draft Saturday at Dallas’ American Airlines Center.

Named after action movie star Jett Li, Woo became the second player of Chinese descent to be drafted by an NHL team. Defenseman Andong Song became the first Chinese-born player drafted when the New York Islanders took him in the sixth round in 2015.

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“It’s cool,” Woo said. “To have my heritage with me in this process is something that’s really cool to me. And to grow up so involved in my heritage my family is something really special.”

Woo, a 17-year-old from Winnipeg, was ranked the 28th-best North American skater, down from 20th at mid-term. He tallied 9 goals and 16 assists and 2 goals and 1 assist in 14 WHL playoff games. He also contributed a goal and an assist for Team Canada at the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World Junior Championship.

“Yeah, it was difficult, and I’m not afraid to say that,” Woo said of the abdominal and shoulder injuries that plagued him last season “To go into playoffs and play my best there was something I was pretty proud of. It was such a great team and organization and city behind me. It wasn’t such a tough transition to go back on the ice with them behind me.”

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Woo also said he had a strong family behind him. His father, Larry Woo, played for Victoria Cougars and Swift Current Broncos in the WHL and then for the University of Manitoba.

“The whole family, they dedicated so much and sacrificed so much for me and my brother and my sisters as well,” Woo said. “So, to have him and my mom always on my side and take those long road trips. You drive me to the rink or back. To go through the process and, you know, make me come here.”

In Woo, the Canucks are getting a hard-hitting right-hand defenseman.

“I like to make sure that the defensive side of the puck is taken care of,” he said, “Whether that be…winning puck battles, playing hard for the puck, you know, being physically in the right moments, or being able to have a different angle on the puck. All of those things…I put first and then my offense will come after that.”

Erica L. Ayala contributed to this report. Follow her @elindsay08.

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