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 Schmidt saying. ‘”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.

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Anthony Duclair departs the Arizona desert in a deal to Chicago Blackhawks

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The desert seemed like the perfect place for forward Anthony Duclair.

He was supposed to be a roadrunner on skates, a key component on a young Arizona Coyotes team looking to resurrect itself from the ashes of losing seasons.

Anthony Duclair moves from the desert to the Windy City in trade.

But the 22-year-old fourth-season player didn’t prove to be a Phoenix rising for Arizona and the Coyotes dealt him Wednesday to the Chicago Blackhawks along with defenseman Adam Clendening for forwards Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin.

Duclair, a New York Rangers 2013 third-round draft pick, was unhappy in Arizona and requested a trade after being a healthy scratch in 10 of the team’s 33 games this season and playing only 13:27 minutes per game when he was in the lineup.

“It wasn’t a decision I made overnight,” Duclair told reporters Friday before skating in the Blackhawks’ 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets in Chicago. “I didn’t have the leash that others had…Not going to say it was unfair to me, but talking to the older guys on the team, they felt I deserved better. And I thought so, too.”

The Coyotes were only too happy to comply with Duclair’s request to move on.

“It’s gone back for a few years now where the team wasn’t happy with the player and the player wasn’t particularly happy with the team and we worked through some things,  tried a lot of different approaches in a lot of different ways,” Arizona General ManagerJohn Chayka told reporters. “I hope he has success in Chicago and does good things.”

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The trade comes two seasons after Duclair tallied 20 goals and 24 assists in 81 games for the Coyotes. His production dipped in the 2016-17 season to 5 goals and 10 assists in 58 games and he spent 16 games with the Tucson Roadrunners, the Coyotes’ AmericanHockey League affiliate.

Duclair had 9 goals and 6 assists in 33 games for Arizona this season. The player nicknamed “The Duke” said he was “stoked” about a fresh start in Chicago, a start that found him skating laps in Friday’s morning skate after he was the last player to join a team huddle.

“We had a tough situation in Arizona,” Duclair told reporters. “(I’m) ready to be in a playoff atmosphere. Every game counts.”

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Flyers’ Tyrell Goulbourne a big hit in NHL debut

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Philadelphia Flyers left wing Tyrell Goulbourne made his National Hockey League debut with a bang on Saturday. Just ask St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

Flyers forward Tyrell Goulbourne

On his very first shift, Goulbourne delivered a crushing hit on Pietrangelo that set up a goal by Flyers forward Scott Laughton.

In the words of  NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, “Welcome to the National, Tyrell Goulbourne!”

Goulbourne didn’t register a goal or an assist in his first NHL game, but he earned plaudits from his Flyers teammates and applause from fans inside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center for his energizing physicality.

“I was scared before the game,” Goulbourne told reporters after the Flyer’ 6-3 win over the Blues. “My legs were shaking. It felt really good after that first shift. I just wanted to get a hit in there. ‘Laughts’ kind of teed him up nice. I just wanted to finish my check.”

Goulbourne played only 5:08 minutes of the game but still manged to dole out four eye-catching hits and blocked one shot.

That’s just what Flyers Head Coach Dave Hakstol and General Manager Ron Hextall were looking for when they decided to call up the 23-year-old rookie from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms over more skilled players on the Flyers’ American Hockey League farm team.

“Everybody’s excited for a player to go out and have success on his first shift,” Hakstol told reporters. “It empowers him and for sure it’s a shot in the arm for the entire bench. Obviously, he had a big impact on that first shift to go out and play the way he plays.”

Goulbourne has 6 goals and 4 assists in 34 games with Lehigh Valley this season. He’s  had an up-and-down career since the Flyers’ took him in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Before that, he was a star player for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. He notched 22 goals and 23 assists in 62 games in 2014-15, the season the Rockets won the WHL championship.

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Erin Jackson becomes first black female U.S.Olympic long track speedskater

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Another U.S. speedskating Olympic trial, another African-American woman on the team that’s headed to the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, next month.

Erin Jackson, a 25-year-old from Ocala, Florida, Friday became the first African American woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic speedskating team in the long track competition.

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

She accomplished the feat at the trials in Milwaukee nearly three weeks after 17-year-old Maame Biney became the first African-American woman to make  the U.S. team in short track competition.

What makes Jackson’s road to PyeongChang, South Korea, especially stunning is that she’s only been doing long track ice skating for four months.

“I surprised myself a lot. I really wasn’t expecting any of this,” Jackson said after making the team. “Just coming in as a newbie trying to do the best that I can.”

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Like several other speedskaters, Jackson made the transition to ice from inline skating, where she won a bunch of medals in international competition from 2008 to 2015. She’s a three-time roller sport athlete of the year.

“I’ve been an inline speedskater for 15 years,” Jackson said. “I came to Salt Lake City (Olympic oval) for the first time in March, well the end of February into March. Then I went back to inline for the summer and came back to Salt Lake in September, so it’s been about four months combined.”

Jackson is also a roller derby veteran. She began in the bruising sport in 2012 and was a member of the New Jax City Rollers, part of Jacksonville Roller Derby, an all-female flat-track roller derby league in Florida.

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Now she’s teammates with Biney and the legendary Shani Davis,  the 35-year-old Chicagoan who’ll be competing in his fifth consecutive Winter Olympics next month.

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Jordan Greenway becomes first African-American on U.S. Olympic hockey team

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Boston University forward Jordan Greenway was named to the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team that will compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea next month.

Boston University forward Jordan Greenway is PyeongChang-bound (Photo/Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Greenway, 20, is the first African-American player ever chosen for the U.S. team.

“Even starting in 1960 when we had the amateurs playing in the Olympics and we were able to get the gold medal there, and then most recently in 1980, just being able to build on that legacy is an unbelievable feeling for me, and I’m happy I’m able to get this opportunity now,” Greenway told the Sporting News. “I’ve been able to accomplish a lot of good things and just allowing a lot of African-American kids who are younger than me who see kind of what I’m doing, I hope that can be an inspiration for them.

Greenway was one of four collegiate players selected for a U.S. team that largely consists of players who are starring in overseas leagues, a career minor-leaguer, and a 38-year-old  recently-retired Stanley Cup champion.

The U.S. team opted for this mix after the NHL announced that it wouldn’t send its players to the Winter Games for the first time in 30 years.

Greenway’s selection wasn’t a surprise: He had participated in Team USA pre-Olympic media events.

A junior at Boston University and a 2015 Minnesota Wild second-round draft pick, Greenway earned a spot on the Olympic roster with a breakout performance at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal.

The 6-foot-6, 227-pound forward from Canton, New York, was a man among boys for the gold medal-winning U.S. team, combining an intimidating physicality with soft scoring hands.

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He had 3 goals and 5 assists in seven games at the World Juniors. He’s tallied 7 goals and 10 assists in 19 NCAA Division I hockey games this season.

Boston University Head Coach David Quinn has said that if Greenway wasn’t a hockey player he would be “a five-star tight end for Alabama and Notre Dame” because of his size.

Jordan Greenway, right, was a towering figure for the U.S. at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. USA Hockey is hoping for a repeat performance from him at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Photo/ Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images).

U.S. Olympic men’s hockey Head Coach Tony Granato hopes Greenway’s size and skill will give opposing players fits in PyeongChang just as it did in Montreal and Toronto in 2017.

Here’s the entire U.S. roster. The team will be captained by right wing Brian Gionta, who notched 289 goals and 299 assists in 1,006 games for the New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres from 2001-02 to his retirement after the 2016-17 season. He won a Stanley Cup with the Devils in the 2002-03 season.

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Art Dorrington, the first black hockey player to sign a NHL contract, dies at 87

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Art Dorrington, the first black ice hockey player to sign a professional contract, passed away on Friday at age 87.

Art Dorrington was a scorer on the ice and a community activist off it.

Dorrington was a high-scoring forward in the old Eastern Hockey League, Eastern Amateur Hockey League and International Hockey League. He played for the Atlantic City Sea Gulls, Johnstown Jets, Washington Lions and Philadelphia Ramblers.

He tallied 163 goals and 157 assists in 345 EHL, EAHL and IHL games. His scoring prowess caught the attention of the New York Rangers. The team signed Dorrington to a professional contract in 1950, but he never appeared in a National Hockey League game.

The NHL wouldn’t see its first black player until forward Willie O’Ree broke in with the Boston Bruins in 1958.

Dorrington was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada, but made Atlantic City, New Jersey, his home after his playing days were over. In 1998, he founded the Art Dorrington Ice Hockey Foundation , a non-profit program that gives the seaside city’s low-income youth a chance to learn life skills through the prism of hockey.

His mantra to the kids was “On the Ice – Off the Streets.”

“What he did for the community is second to none,” Stefan Rivard, a retired player from the old Atlantic City Board Walk Bullies of the ECHL team told The Press of Atlantic City. “Art’s thing was always to perform in the classroom and then sports were after that.”

Art Dorrington, left, was the first black player to sign a professional contract. Willie O’Ree, right, was the NHL’s first black player. Both have ice rinks named in their honor (Photo/Tom Briglia/PhotoGraphics).

Dorrington loved Atlantic City, and the city loved him back. In 2015, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian proclaimed March 15 as Art Dorrington Day. In 2012, city officials named the Boardwalk Hall’s ice rink after him.

“He was a true champion,” his daughter, Judah Dorrington, told The Atlantic City newspaper. “He had a major impact on this city.”

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Could Earl and Greenway be on their way to the Winter Olympics in South Korea?

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BUFFALO, N.Y. – “Who are these guys?”

That’s likely to be the response from some fans on New Year’s Day when USA Hockey announces the roster for the men’s team that will compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea Feb. 9-25.

Forward Jordan Greenway has represented the U.S. before. Will he do it again in PyeongChang? (Photo/Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

The National Hockey League isn’t pausing its season to send its star players to the Winter Games for the first time in 30 years, meaning hockey powers such as the United States, Canada, and Russia are going to have to be creative in filling out their Olympic rosters.

The U.S. team could be a mixture of young collegiate stars and seasoned former NHLers who are still playing the game in North American minor leagues, Europe, or elsewhere.

If that’s the case, watch out for two names: Jordan Greenway and Robbie Earl. Greenway, a left wing for Boston University and a 2015 second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild, made an international splash about this time last year at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal.

The 6-foot-6, 227-pound forward from Canton, New York, was  physical force with a deft scoring touch at the tournament. He notched 3 goals and 5 assists in seven games at the 2017 World Juniors.

Boston University forward Jordan Greenway played in both the IIHF’s World Junor Championship and World Championship in 2017 (Photo/Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Greenway, 20, also appeared in eight games for the U.S. at the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Paris and Cologne in May. He went scoreless in a tourney that featured squads stocked with NHL players whose teams didn’t make or were eliminated early from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Greenway got off to an admitted slow start at BU this season, tallying 7 goals and 10 assists in 19 games.

“I don’t think I’ve played as well as I wanted to here in the first few games of the season,” Greenway told the St. Paul, Minnesota’s twincities.com in November. “I still have a couple of months to show them what I can do. I do think I could play in the Olympics, for sure.”

Jordan Greenway hopes to overcome a slow start at Boston University this season and make the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team (Photo/Boston University).

Slow start or not, U.S. hockey people like Greenway’s game. He participated in the Team USA pre-Olympic media summit at Park City, Utah, in September and posed for pictures wearing a U.S. national team jersey with the American flag in the background.

“I feel very fortunate for this opportunity,” he told reporters at the summit. “I didn’t think it would come this soon, but I’m going to take full advantage of it.”

Will forward Robbie Earl go from 2005-06 Frozen Four MVP to 2018 U.S. Olympian?

Earl also appears to be trying to take advantage of opportunity presented to him.  The 32-year-old forward from Chicago is an assistant captain for EHC Biel, a team in Switzerland’s National League.

He had an Olympics audition of sorts playing for the U.S. at the four-team Deutschland Cup tournament in November. He was scoreless in three games.

Earl played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin from 2003-04 to 2005-06. The Badgers won the NCAA Frozen Four title in Earl’s final year at the school and he was named the tournament’s most valuable player. He scored 58 goals and 63 assists in 125 games in his collegiate career.

He was taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2004 NHL Draft. He appeared in 47 NHL games between the Leafs and the Minnesota Wild, tallying only 6 goals and 1 assist.

Robbie Earl skated for Team USA at the 2017 Deutschland Cup in November Photo/von Mathias Renner/City-Press GbR via USA Hockey).

Earl had a productive North American minor league career playing for the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate in Toronto and the Wild’s former farm team in Houston, collecting 66 goals and 103 assists in 313 games.

His scoring carried over to Switzerland where he’s skated for Biel, EV Zug, and Raspperswil-Jona. He has 91 goals and 110 assists in 225 NLA games since 2012-13.

An assistant captain on the Biel team this season, Earl has 11 goals and 13 assists in 30 games.

Chicago native Robbie Earl is a swift-skating scoring threat for EHC Biel in Switzerland (Photo/Hervé Chavaillaz).

While Greenway and Earl represent opposite ends of the hockey spectrum – one player nearing the start of his professional career while the other is approaching the twilight of his – they have one thing in common: University of Wisconsin connections.

Earl is a Wisconsin alum. Tony Granato, the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team head coach, is also the Badgers bench boss. Greenway’s younger brother, J.D., is a sophomore defenseman who plays for Granato at Wisconsin.

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Lacquette becomes first Indigenous woman to play on Canada’s Olympic hockey team

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Brigette Lacquette hasn’t set skate on Winter Olympic ice yet,  and she’s already scored.

Team Canada defenseman Brigette Lacquette (Photo/Dave Holland/Hockey Canada Images).

The 25-year-old defenseman from Mallard, Manitoba, achieved a dream last week when she became the first First Nations member to be selected to Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team. She will compete at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February.

“It’s pretty special,” Lacquette told Sportsnet.ca. “Growing up, I really didn’t have that female role model to look to. It’s just very special for me to be that role model for young First Nations kids across Canada.”

And what a role model she has been. Lacquette, who is Cote First Nation, won silver medals with Canada’s national women’s team at the 2017 4 Nations Cup in Tampa, the 2017 Nations Cup in Germany and Austria, the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, and the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

Team Canada defenseman Brigette Lacquette in action at the 2016 Women’s 4 Nations Cup against Finland (Photo/Riku Laukkanen/Hockey Canada Images).

Lacquette was also a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2010 IIHF Women’s Under-18 Championship in Chicago.

Last season, she was the second-leading scoring defenseman for the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with 4 goals and 10 assists in 19 games. She has a goal in eight games for the Inferno this season.

She played at the University of Minnesota-Duluth from 2011-12 to 2014-15 and tallied 20 goals and 49 assists in 106 games at the NCAA Division I school.

“I’ve worked my whole life towards this, and just being that role model for young First Nations is huge,” Lacquette told hockeycanada.ca in September. “I didn’t have that growing up, have that women’s hockey player to look up to that was Aboriginal, so being the first one, it means a lot.”

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