Racist taunts toward Smith-Pelly by ‘fans’ ignores the history of their favorite team


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GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA I just want to drop a few names on the Chicago Blackhawks “fans” who had their butts not-so-surgically removed from their United Center seats Saturday for allegedly hurling racist taunts at Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly.

Dirk Graham, Johnny Oduya, Dustin Byfuglien, Ray Emery and Trevor Daley.

These are black players or players of African descent who skated for the team that you root for – or rooted for before Blackhawks management ejected you from fairly high-priced seats for supposedly directing racial remarks toward Smith-Pelly.

Black players helped make the Blackhawks winners and hoist Stanley Cups.

Oduya was a mainstay on defense on the ‘Hawks 2012-13 and 2014-15 championship teams. Emery was the solid backup goaltender for the 2012-13 Cup winner. And Byfuglien was a disruptive power forward that the Philadelphia Flyers struggled to control in the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Final.

Former Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery.

Graham was a gritty heat-and-soul captain of a Blackhawks teams that were competitive. He even scored a hat trick in Game 4 in the 1992 Stanley Cup Final won by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

These are all men of color who played for your team. For. Your. Team.

Imagine if Oduya, Byfuglien, and Emery adhered to the taunts aimed at Smith-Pelly and they played for, say, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks instead of the NHL’s Blackhawks?

The idea that you could be shocked and appalled in this day and age at the sight of a black guy being on the ice or in the penalty box at a hockey game means you either don’t know your own team or that Smith-Pelly’s skin simply got under yours.

Either way, it wasn’t a good look. I wonder what recently-acquired Blackhawks forward Anthony Duclair must be thinking after watching those home “fans” giving an opposing minority player the business by using race as a weapon.

Former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya.

Kudos to the management of the Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals and National Hockey League for taking swift action on this ugly incident.

Captials Head Coach Barry Trotz was right when he said “There is absolutely no place in the game of hockey or our country for racism.”

“It just shows ignorance,” he added.

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Sarah Nurse goal powers Canada to 2-1 Winter Olympics win over the U.S.


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GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA Sarah Nurse went top shelf and her father went over the moon.

Forward Sarah Nurse scored her first Winter Olympics goal Thursday (Photo/Hockey Canada).

Nurse, a forward for the Canadian women’s hockey team, fired a wrist shot that bounced off United States goaltender Maddie Rooney’s right shoulder and found a small hole on the short side of the net. It proved to be the difference-maker in a 2-1 contest against the two best teams at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Nurse’s goal at 14:56 of the second period gave Canada a 2-0 lead. U.S. forward Kendall Coyne scored early in the  third period but Canadian goaltender Genevieve Lacasse withstood an onslaught of U.S. shots –  stopping 44 – to preserve the win.

“We played a full 60 minutes and I think we have some things to improve on, but we’re definitely confident in where we’re at and where we’re going,” Nurse told reporters after the game.

Nurse’s tally was her first Olympic goal. She was named to the Canadian team after she completed a collegiate career at the NCAA Division I University of Wisconsin where she tallied 76 goals and 61 assists in 150 games.

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She’s the Badgers’ eighth all-time leading scorer, keeping company with the likes of U.S. stars Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight, who are also playing in PyeongChang seeking Olympic gold.

Her father was feeling somewhat anxious before Canada’s match against its arch-rival for international women’s hockey supremacy. He felt exalted when his daughter’s shot went in the net.

“I’m still trying to come down,” he told me between periods following the goal.

Michelle and Roger Nurse cheered on their daughter, Canadian women’s Olympic hockey player Sarah Nurse, at the Canada-U.S. game Thursday. Sarah Nurse scored her first Olympic goal in that contest (Photo/William Douglas/Color of Hockey).

For Roger and his wife, Michelle Nurse, watching their daughter represent Canada in Pyeongchang triggered memories of how it all began.

“We did a lot of long car rides (to tournaments), me and Sarah. At one point, we’re driving all over North America,” Roger Nurse told me. “For me and Sarah in the car, we laugh, tell a lot of jokes, trying to make the ride shorter. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing since she was 7 years old.”

Sarah reflected on her hockey journey, too. She posted a tweet prior to the Olympic hockey tournament thanking her dad for doing the things that enabled her to play the game.

But for all her success, Sarah and her parents never fully knew where she stood with Hockey Canada. Last year was Sarah’s first centralizaton – or tryout – camp with Canada’s national team from which the Olympic squad was picked.

“There are some kids who just smooth through – they’re the best player, they go to every camp, every event, every Four Nations (tournament), every worlds tournament,” Roger Nurse told me. “For Sarah, it was kind of a fight. No matter how good you thought she was, no matter how well you thought she was doing, it was a fight.”

“And, you, know, she’s still standing, and that’s a great testament to her ability to fight through it,” he added.

Part of that resilience comes from being part of a highly-competitive family. Sarah’s cousins are Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and University of Connecticut women’s basketball point guard Kia Nurse, who played hoops for Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sarah’s younger brothers are hockey players: Issac Nurse  plays right wing for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League.  Elijah Nurse is a left wing for the Dundas Blues of Canada’s Provincial Junior Hockey League.

Sarah Nurse’s brother, Isaac Nurse, plays for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

Her father was a renowned Canadian lacrosse player. Her uncle Richard Nurse – Darnell and Kia’s father – was a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Former National Football League quarterback Donovan McNabb is an uncle.

Sarah Nurse told CBC Sports that she’s proud of her family’s athletic roots stressed that “I’m here to create my own path.”

It’s something that Roger Nurse’s children occasionally have to remind him of when he’s dispensing hockey advice.

“I’d say something to her about a game she’d play at Wisconsin, she’d look at me and say ‘Dad, you never played a game of NCAA hockey,'” Roger Nurse said. “And Issac would say to me ‘Dad, you never played one game in the Ontario Hockey League.’ Point taken.”

These days, Roger Nurse keeps his advice simple.

“‘Go have fun, step up, and do what you have to do,'” he tells them.

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




Randi Griffin scores Korea’s first-ever Winter Olympics ice hockey goal


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GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA Randi Griffin, a North Carolinian, scored the first Korean ice hockey goal in Winter Olympics history Wednesday.

Randi Griffin of Korea’s unified women’s Olympic hockey tea (Photo/Korean Ice Hockey Association).

Griffin, a forward for the Korean women’s unified hockey team scored in the second period, but it wasn’t enough as Japan defeated its Asian arch-rival 4-1 in a preliminary round match at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“I’m definitely not a hero. It was a pretty crappy shot that took a couple of bounces and happened to go into the net,” Griffin told reporters after the game. “I got lucky.”

That said, Griffin added that the goal was a relief for a unified team that lost its first two games to Switzerland and Sweden by identical 8-0 scores.

“We don’t want to leave the Olympics not having scored a goal,”she said. “It feels great to have one under our belt.”

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The daughter of a Korean mother and white father, Griffin was recruited by the Korea Ice Hockey Association shortly after the country was awarded the Winter Games.

Not an international hockey power, South Korea scoured U.S. and Canadian college rosters looking for players with Korean names to help build its roster.

Griffin played for Harvard University from 2006-07 to 2009-10. She tallied 21 goals and 18 assists in 124 games.

Ironically, Korean officials initially didn’t know about Griffin because of her last name. They learned about her from the parent of a Korean-Canadian player they were scouting.

Once they found about Griffin, 29, they immediately sent her an email inviting her to join their Olympic effort. But she thought the email was a scam and didn’t respond for months.

It wasn’t until KIHA officials contacted Griffin’s father, Thomas Griffin, that she responded. Both Griffin and the KIHA association are now glad that she did.

She’s become a key part of a team made of 23 South Korean and 12 North Korean players – the first time athletes from the two countries have played on the same team in the Winter Games.

The merger was done only weeks before the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games in hopes of fostering unification talks between the two Koreas, or at least de-escalate tensions heightened by North Korea Leader Kim Jong-uns pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Griffin, a Duke University anthropology department graduate student, said Wednesday’s game was perhaps the most meaningful to the unified team.

“I would say the games against Japan more than anything else have been something that have brought North and South Koreans together because everyone is saying, ‘We really need to win this game,'” she said.

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Historic Korea-Swiss Olympic hockey game a family affair for Randi Griffin


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Randi Griffin of Korea’s unified women’s Olympic hockey tea (Photo/Korean Ice Hockey Association).

PYEONGCHANG – Presidents don’t usually pay visits to losing teams.

But there was South Korean President Moon Jae-in meeting with the players and coaches of the Korean unified hockey team at their bench after they got routed 8-0 by Switzerland in their opening game at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Moon, accompanied by Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un, and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, chatted and posed for pictures with the team.

Despite the final score, the game was historic – the first time athletes from North and South Korea played on a single team at the Winter Olympics.

The game symbolized the aspirations of many for one Korea – or at least a peaceful coexistence between the North and South.

Thomas Griffin, right, his wife, Elizabeth, and her parents journeyed to Pyeongchang to root for Korean unified women’s team forward Randi Griffin.

Randi Griffin bought her family hockey jerseys with her number to wear at the historic game between the Korean unified women’s Olympic hockey team and Switzerland.


The game was meaningful for the parents of unified team forward Randi Griffin. Thomas and Elizabeth Griffin made the journey from Apex, North Carolina, to watch her play for her mother’s home country.

So did Griffin’s elderly grandparents, who made the trek from Chicago.

Griffin, who played four years at NCAA Division I Harvard University, was recruited by South Korea to play shortly after the country was awarded the 2018 Winter Games.

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South Korean hockey officials sent her an email in 2014 asking if she’d be interested in playing for their Olympic hockey team. She ignored the email for three months, thinking it was a hoax.

Other than their daughter, the Griffins had little to cheer about Saturday night. Swiss forward Alina Muller was a one-woman wrecking crew against the unified squad, scoring four goals.

But that didn’t seem to matter to the partisan crowd of more than 3,000 inside Kwandong Hockey Centre.

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They cheered almost every time the unified team handled or shot the puck.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s hand-picked cheerleaders kept things lively with chants and dances throughout the game.

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Carter went from ‘ha-ha’ to ‘hey, now’ on Chance the Rapper’s SNL hockey skit


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PYEONGCHANG – Anson Carter’s response was “Ha, ha, that’s funny” when he first saw Chance the Rapper play a clueless New York Knicks basketball sideline reporter trying to analyze a NewYork Rangers hockey game in an NBC “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Former NHLer Anson Carter will be part of NBC’s Olympic TV crew.

But his reaction quickly shifted to “Hey, now, wait a minute” upon further review.

“I loved it, I thought it was funny, you need to laugh at yourself,” Carter, a retired National Hockey League forward/turned hockey analyst for NBC Sports Network and host of “The MSG Hockey Show.” “But at the same time, there are enough black people out there who know the game of hockey that you’re like ‘Can we actually move past that point?”

“I liked it because it brought attention to the sport, but you can’t keep using those same old stereotypes because there are actually knowledgeable black fans out there that you’re saying ‘You guys have no clue on what’s going on,’ he added. “I think that was the easy way out making fun of hockey, of all sports. There’s a lot more black fans out there than we get credit for. From that standpoint, I didn’t like it, but you’ve got to laugh at yourself.”

Carter is busy these days preparing to impart hockey knowledge on television viewers as part of the NBC team that will cover the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Feb. 9-25. He’ll serve as an in-studio host from NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Connecticut.

He says he’s mindful that the Winter Games might be the first time that a casual viewer might see a black person talking about ice hockey on TV.

“Sometimes you’re changing the channel, and you might not watch the whole game, but you might want to see what’s happening between periods, and you see a black face on TV talking about the game, giving some insightful analysis on what’s going on,” Carter said.

“I always keep in mind, too, that I have to make sure that I’m prepared at all times,” he added. “I want to make sure I’m bringing my ‘A’ game to the table because it is all about diversity. You can’t talk about being diverse on the ice, but then off the ice you don’t have that diversity as well when you have people capable of doing the job.”

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Carter did the job when he was a player. He tallied 202 goals and 219 assists in 674 games over 11 seasons with the Capitals, Boston Bruins,Edmonton Oilers, VancouverCanucks, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and CarolinaHurricanes.

And he did it while wearingdreads.

These days, he’s is part of a growing group of black hockey analysts/broadcasters.  Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goaltender, mans the analyst’s desk at the NHL Network. David Amberco-hosts the late Saturday game on “Hockey Night in Canada,” the “Monday NightFootball” of the Great White North.

Tarik El Bashir  provides analysis during Washington Capitals broadcasts on NBCSports Washington, where he’s sometimes joined by Carter. Everett Fitzhugh is the voice of the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL.

Last month, Fitzhugh was part of a television team chosen to call the CCM-ECHL All-StarGame that aired on NHL Network.

All these guys, to paraphrase Chance the Rapper, are doing that hockey.

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Black athletes competing at 2018 Winter Olympics makes it ‘Must-See TV’


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SEOUL I’m old enough to remember when it was a big deal when a black person appeared on national television.

The phone in my family’s Philadelphia home would ring off the hook with relatives or friends calling to alert us that Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross & The Supremes, or Flip Wilson were going to be on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Hollywood Palace,” or “The Andy Williams Show” that night.

Erin Jackson, U.S. long track speedskater (Photo/US Speedskating/Alienfrogg).

It was Must-See-TV in the era black and white sets, new-fangled remote controls, rabbit ears antennae, and frozen TV dinners.

New Must-See-TV moments begin Friday night with the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The 242-member U.S. team that will march into South Korea’s PyeongChang Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony will be the most diverse American team in Winter Olympic history.

The U.S. team features a record 10 African-American athletes competing in bobsled, speedskating and ice hockey.

“The fact that you’re seeing black athletes competing at the highest levels, it gives promise to kids, not just the kids, but parents, too,” said Anson Carter, a black retired NationalHockey League forward who’s working the Winter Games as an in-studio analyst for NBC. “So when you turn the TV on and see these stories on NBC about these black athletes competing in the Olympics, and competing at a very high level, that will more likely open some eyes.”

Seventy-five percent of the four-member U.S. women’s bobsled team is black. Led by Elana Meyers Taylor, the team is looking to improve upon the silver and bronze medals medals they won at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

The U.S. men’s bobsled team features Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, a former football star at the University of Virginia College at Wise, and Chris Kinney, a former GeorgetownUniversity track athlete.

Speedskating legend Shani Davis returns for his fourth Winter Olympics. He’s joined by Erin Jackson, the first African-American female U.S. long track speedskating Olympian, and 18-year-old Maame Biney, the first black female U.S. short track Olympic contestant.

Jordan Greenway, a massive and massively-talented forward from Boston University, makes history as the first African-American to play for a U.S. Olympic ice hockey team. Carter is expecting big things from the 6-foot-5, 238-pound junior from Canton, New York.

“You don’t find too many players like him that are big and strong and fast,” Carter told me recently. “I don’t think it’s a token ‘Here, kid, come on to the team, we’re going to give you a chance. We’re going to try to get our black quota of players up just so we can put the story out there.’ That’s not how hockey works.”

“If you’re a black hockey player you have to be really good to play at the next level,” Carter added. “For a guy like Jordan to come and play on that team, that says a lot about his ability, that says a lot about his talent, that says a lot about how much respect he’s getting in the hockey community as a player who could be an impact player at the National Hockey League level.”

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And the diversity in PyeongChang extends beyond the U.S. team. Jamaica is back with a bobsled team – the Caribbean island nation’s first women’s squad. They’ll be joined by the country’s first skeleton athlete.

Nigeria is in the house with its first Winter Olympics participants – a women’s bobsled team and a female skeleton athlete.

Ghana also has an Olympian in skeleton, a sport where athletes zoom face-down on a twisting, frozen concrete track.

I’m in South Korea this month covering the 2018 Winter Olympics for McClatchy Newspapers. In addition, you’ll be able to catch me occasionally on NPR. I’ll be talking Winter Olympics with host Michel Martin this Sunday on NPR’s “All ThingsConsidered” weekend edition.

So give a read and a listen. In the meantime, here are some of the folks who are adding a splash of color to the Winter Olympics.

Just 18 years old, Maame Biney is the United States’ first black female Olympic short track speedskater.

Erin Jackson skated into the history books when she became the first African-American woman to qualify for the Winter Olympics in long track speedskating (Photo/US Speedskating John Kleba).

The U.S. Women’s Bobsled National Team. Left to Right, Kehri Jones, Brittany Reinbolt, Aja Evans, Lauren Gibbs, Elana Meyers Taylor, Jamie Greubel Poser, Lolo Jones, and Briauna Jones. Evans, Gibbs, Meyers Taylor, and Greubel Poser will operate two U.S. bobsleds at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Briauna Jones will be a backup in PyeongChang (Photo/Molly Choma/USA Bobsled & Skeleton).

North Carolina’s Kimani Griffin will make his Olympic debut in long track speedskating (Photo/US Speedskating/John Kleba).

Shani Davis is competing in his fourth Winter Olympics. He’s won two gold and two silver medals in his Olympic career. (Photo/Harry E. Walker).

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Randi Griffin skates into hockey history with unified Korean women’s Olympic hockey team


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Boston University forward Jordan Greenway, who’ll be the first African-American to play for a U.S. hockey team at the Winter Olympics, isn’t the only American making hockey history.

Randi Griffin of Korea’s unified women’s Olympic hockey tea (Photo/Korean Ice Hockey Association).

Former Harvard University forward Randi Griffin, a North Carolinian of Korean heritage, will also be a part of history as a member of the unified Korean women’s hockey team that will compete at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, Feb. 9-25.

When the team takes to the ice for its first game against Switzerland on Feb. 10, it will be the first time in Olympic history that athletes from North and South Korea will be teammates in one sport.

The International Olympic Committee announced Saturday that the two Korean squads will become one by adding 12 players from the North to the existing 23-player South Korean roster.

South Korean Head Coach Sarah Murray, a dual Canadian-American citizen and daughter of former National Hockey League coach Andy Murray, will guide the unified team.

Under the unification agreement forged by the IOC and the North and South Korea Olympic committees, Murray will dress three North Korean players for each game.

Korea’s Randi Griffin (left) in action in an exhibition game against the Connecticut Whale of the National Women’s Hockey League (Photo/Korea Ice Hockey Association).

Griffin, 29, skated for Harvard from 2006-07 to 2009-10. She tallied 21 goals and 18 assists in 124 games for the Crimson.  She joined the South Korean women’s national team in 2015 after receiving an email invite that she initially thought was a scam.

Read more about Griffin’s journey from Apex, N.C., to Cambridge, Mass., to PyeongChang in a story I wrote for McClatchy Newspapers.

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Hockey honors Willie O’Ree for becoming NHL’s first black player 60 years ago


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Willie O’Ree remembers the pre-game talk as if it were yesterday.

Boston Bruins Head Coach Milt Schmidt and General Manager Lynn Patrick sat down their rookie forward, a call-up from the Quebec Aces, before his debut against the Montreal Canadiens in the old Forum and told him “Willie O’Ree, we brought you up because we think you can add a spark to the team.”

‘”Don’t worry about anything else,”‘ O’Ree recalled them telling him. ‘”Just go out and play the game, the organization is behind you 100 percent.”‘

O’Ree didn’t realize the gravity of  that January 18, 1958 talk until after the Bruins blanked the Habs 3-0. O’Ree didn’t register a point on the stat sheet that night, but he made a mark in history as the National Hockey League’s first black player.

“I didn’t even know I broke the color barrier until I read it in the newspaper the next day,” O’Ree told me recently.

Hockey honored O’Ree on Wednesday for the 60th anniversary of his feat, a celebration that really began over the weekend in Boston.

But Wednesday was the big day. The Canadiens were in Boston to play the Bruins at TD Garden. Before the game, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh proclaimed January 18 as “Willie O’Ree Day.” The city also announced plans to refurbish a street hockey rink and name it in O’Ree’s honor.

“Willie’s speed, his skill and sheer perseverance earned him a job in a six-team National Hockey League where jobs were, indeed scarce – 60 years ago,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We celebrate not only the NHL games he played but the countless thousands of boys and girls he has inspired since becoming our ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ ambassador in 1998.”

The league pulled out all the stops Wednesday. O’Ree dropped a ceremonial puck before the B’s-Habs game. Players wore Willie O’Ree 60th anniversary patches commemorative patches on their jerseys.

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

The NHL tapped Canadian filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason, director of the award-winning black history documentary “Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future,” to help produce an O’Ree tribute video.

NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes sat down with O’Ree for a long interview about his history-making moment and  his legacy.

O’Ree didn’t have a long NHL career. He only played 45 games over the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons and tallied 4 goals and 10 assists. He played those games carrying a secret: He was legally blind in his right eye, the result of being hit by a puck.

Still, he enjoyed a lengthy minor league career, mainly in the old Western Hockey League where he scored 328 goals and 311 assists with the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls from 1961-62 to 1973-74.

Several hockey aficionados are hoping that O’Ree gets more propers beyond the 60th anniversary celebration.

Folks from filmmaker Mason to retired NHL player-turned-TV analyst Anson Carter believe O’Ree should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder’s category for his contributions to the game in mentoring many of the NHL’s minority players and for extending hockey’s reach to communities of color

San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward suggested that the NHL should retire O’Ree’s Number 22 league-wide the same way Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s Number 42 in 1997. Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier when he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

“I would like to be in the Hall of Fame. I mean, who wouldn’t?” O’Ree told me. “I’d be thrilled and honored to be selected and go into the hall.”

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J.T. Brown claimed off waivers by Anaheim Ducks


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Forward J.T. Brown has gone from a being a Bolt to a Duck.

Tampa Bay Lightning placed right wing J.T. Brown on waivers Saturday.

The Anaheim Ducks claimed Brown on Sunday after the Tampa Bay Lightning placed him on waivers Saturday.

Brown became the only National Hockey League player to conduct a silent protest during the playing of the U.S. national anthem to draw attention to racial inequities and police brutality in America.

He raised his fist skyward during the Star Spangled Banner before an Oct. 7 game between the Lightning and Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.

Brown received death threats for the gesture, which he discontinued after the first time. But the threats didn’t quell his community activism. He worked with the Tampa Police Department, going on ride-alongs with officers.

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Before the 2017-18 season began, Brown donated $1,500 to help pay for the removal of a Confederate monument from Tampa’s downtown courthouse.

Brown had only 1 goal and 3 assists for the Lightning and appeared in only 24 of the team’s first 44 games this season.

Brown has no hard feeling over being waived. He thanked the organization and Tampa Bay hockey fans in a lengthy tweet on Sunday.

“I’m excited for this opportunity and the next chapter of my career. Let’s go Ducks!” he tweeted.

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TB Lightning waive J.T. Brown, the first NHL player to protest during anthem


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The Tampa Bay Lightning placed right wing J.T. Brown on waivers Saturday.

Brown was the first National Hockey League player to engage in a silent protest during the playing of the U.S. national anthem to draw attention to racial inequities and police brutality in America.

Tampa Bay Lightning placed right wing J.T. Brown on waivers Saturday.

If Brown clears waivers, the Lightning will assign him to the Syracuse Crunch, Tampa Bay’s American Hockey League farm team. Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman told The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith that the waive was about creating roster flexibility.

“I wanted flexibility within our roster, when the time comes, to recall players currently excelling in Syracuse and give them an opportunity to play,” Yzerman told Smith.

Brown, a five-season NHL veteran, has had an uneven 2017-18 season in Tampa Bay. He’s only appeared in 24 of the team’s first 44 games this season and has tallied only 1 goal and 3 assists.

He drew national attention on October 7, 2017 when he became the first NHL player to stage a silent protest during the national anthem, raising his fist in the air on the bench as the song played.

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Several National Football League and National Basketball Association players, most of them black, have dropped to one knee, raised a clenched fist skyward, or engaged in some other form of silent protest to highlight what they consider poor treatment of African-American and other minorities in the United States.

President Donald Trump lashed out at athletes who protest during the national anthem, accusing them of showing disrespect for the American flag and a “total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect for everything we stand for.”

Brown said he decided to protest because “there comes a time when you cannot remain silent, hoping and wishing for change.”

“I also want to reiterate that this is not and has never been about the military or disrespecting the flag,” Brown said in an October tweet. “It’s about police brutality, racial injustice, and inequality in this country. It is something that I and many others feel needs to be addressed. I love my country, but that doesn’t mean I cannot acknowledge that it is not perfect.”

Brown backed up his protest with a search for understanding. He worked with the Tampa Police Department, including going on ride-alongs with officers in some of the city’s troubled areas.

A 27-year-old Minnesota native, Brown has been a community fixture in Tampa. He donated $1,500 last August as part of an effort to privately raise $140,000 that county officials said would be required to remove a Confederate monument from Tampa’s downtown courthouse.

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