Heroics by Reaves and Bellemare propel Golden Knights to Stanley Cup Final

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Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, Ryan Reaves and Malcolm Subban are cashing in on the chips of fate that took them to Las Vegas.

The three black players are members of the Vegas Golden Knights, the first-year National Hockey League team that’s made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Forward Ryan Reaves thought he’d be helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. He got traded to Vegas instead.

Forwards Reaves and Bellemare played pivotal roles Sunday in the Golden Knights’ series-clinching 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets that put them to the Stanley Cup Final.

Reaves, a Winnipeg native and son of a former Canadian Football League star, scored the game-winning goal, a second-period tip in shot. The man who proclaimed himself the strongest player in the NHL showed soft hands on the goal.

The Golden Knights dispatched the Jets in five games and now await the winner of the Washington Capitals-Tampa Bay Lightning Eastern Conference Final.

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Bellemare, a native of Le Blanc-Mesnil, France, didn’t register a point Sunday. But he made his presence felt by centering a fourth line – that included Reaves – pressured and frustrated Winnipeg’s offensive players.

The playoff contributions by Reaves, Bellemare and regular season heroics by Subban are notable because they, like most of the players on the Golden Knights’ roster, are cast-offs – dispatched to the desert by other NHL teams.

Bellemare and Subban probably didn’t envision playing for hockey’s Holy Grail when the 2017-18 season began in October. Reaves thought he’d be competing for the Cup on a different team.

They each took a different path to Vegas.

Bellemare’s was more direct. He’s an original Golden Knight, chosen in last June’s expansion draft – a smorgasbord of  hand-me-down players served up by the NHL’s 30 other teams. He was plucked from the Philadelphia Flyers.

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He quickly established himself as a key part of Golden Knights, earning the assistant captain’s “A” for his jersey.  He tallied 6 goals and 10 assists in 72 regular season games in 2017-18.

Bellemare has no goals and 1 assist in 15 playoff contests. But the beauty of Bellemare is what he does defensively, making the opposition work for offensive opportunities. He also is a top-notch penalty killer.

Subban wasn’t even on the Golden Knights roster – or even in the NHL -when the 2017-18 season started.

Placed on waivers by the Boston Bruins, goalie Malcolm Subban found a home in Vegas.

The younger brother of Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, was tending goal in the minor leagues for the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League farm team of the Boston Bruins.

Boston, frustrated by Subban’s progress after selecting him in the first round of 2012 NHL draft, placed him on waivers in October 2017. The Golden Knights quickly claimed the athletic, acrobatic goaltender.

Subban played a pivotal role in Vegas’ improbable season, filling in for an injured Marc-Andre Fleury. He earned his first NHL victory against the Bruins, the team that dispatched him. In December, Subban had a 41-save, 4-3 win against Nashville and big brother P.K.

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He finished the regular season with 13-4-2 record in 22 games with a 2.68 goals-against average.

Reaves expected to be chasing the Stanley Cup – for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Reaves, one of the NHL’s most-feared tough guys, was acquired by the Eastern Conference Penguins from the Western Conference St. Louis Blues before the 2017-18 season began.

His mission was to add muscle and on-ice protection for high-scoring forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. But the Pens shipped Reaves back west to Vegas in February for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick.

“Out West, every team seems to have a little bit of physicality to them. I like playing that game,” Reaves told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in February. “I like to play a little heavier.”

He relished the role of the heavy against his hometown Jets. Reaves proclaimed himself the strongest player in the NHL, a title usually associated with Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg’s physically-imposing, offensively-talented defenseman.

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Reaves appeared in 58 regular season games for the Penguins and 21 contests for the Golden Knights. He had 4 goals, 6 assists and 94 penalty minutes between the two teams. His game-winning goal Sunday was his first point in six  playoff games.

Should the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup, Bellemare would be the latest black player to have his name engraved on trophy.

His name would join those of goaltenders Grant Fuhr (Edmonton Oilers – 1984, 1985, 1987, 1998, 1990), Eldon “Pokey” Riddick (Oilers – 1990) and 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 (Penguins – 2016, 2017).

Reaves and Subban are currently ineligible to have their names engraved.  NHL rules state that a player has to appear in at least 41 games with the team playing for the Cup or appear in at least one Stanley Cup Final contest.

Given his game-winning heroics Sunday, Reaves will likely be in the Vegas lineup in the Final against Washington or Tampa Bay.

Subban is a different matter. He didn’t play a minute in the playoffs. He’s not likely to see action in the Final unless Fleury – a leading contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league’s most valuable post-season player – is injured or is replaced because of a poor performance.

If Subban doesn’t play in the Final, the Golden Knights could petition the league to have his name added to the Cup.

The Blackhawks successfully petitioned to have Mayers name engraved after he appeared in only 19 regular season games and no playoff contests during the team’s 2012-13 Cup-winning season.

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A First Nations NHL player bypassed by history is championed by dogged reporter

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Like any good journalist, Irene Schmidt-Adeney loves to unravel a good mystery.

But Schmidt-Adney, a reporter for the Ayr News, a weekly publication in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, didn’t realize how deep she would have to dig to try to solve the mystery of Henry Elmer “Buddy” Maracle.

Henry Maracle, standing, with the N.Y. Rangers in 1930-31.

She wondered why hockey history hasn’t shown love to Maracle, an Ayr product who appears to have been the first indigenous player in the National Hockey League.

Maracle, a Mohawk from Six Nations, played 11 regular season games and four Stanley Cup Playoffs contests for the New York Rangers in 1930-31. He tallied a goal and 3 assists in his short tenure with the Blue Shirts.

Hockey historians regard Fred Sasakamoose as the first NHL’s first indigenous player with treaty status Sasakamoose, a member of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, played 11 games for the Chicago Blackhawks  in 1953-54 without registering a point.

Sasakamoose, 84, was invested in the Order of Canada last week, an honor that recognizes Canadian citizens for outstanding achievement, dedication to community or service to the nation.

Reporter Irene Schmidt-Adeney holds a jersey provided by the New York Rangers with Henry Maracle’s name and number on the back (Photo/Courtesy Irene Schmidt-Adeney/Ayr News).

Sasakamoose is also a member of the Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame. the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, the Prince Albert Hall of Fame and the Canadian Native Hockey Hall of Fame.

“It’s great that he got the Order of Canada, but Maracle should be recognized,” said Schmidt-Adeney, who published her story about Maracle in March after months of exhaustive research. “We’re not going to go out and demand that the Order of Canada come off Fred’s neck. It would just be nice if Henry Maracle was recognized.”

Hockey historians say Fred Sasakamoose became the NHL’s first indigenous player with treaty status when he skated for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-54 (Photo/Courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame).

Maracle is starting to get his due, thanks to Schmidt-Adeney’s doggedness. She reached out to the Rangers and obtained two official jerseys, complete with Maracle’s last name and Number 14 on the back.

One of the sweaters will be presented at a ceremony next month to North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton on behalf of the township. Former New York Islanders broadcaster Jiggs McDonald, an Ayr native, and Walter Gretzky, father of Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, plan to attend the event, Schmidt-Adeney said.

Plans are being formulated to present the second Rangers jersey to a representative of Six Nations of Grand River, hopefully to coincide with National Aboriginal Heritage Day on the June 21.

In addition, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto asked Schmidt-Adeney for her research on Maracle.

She noted in her March 21, 2018 article that the Hall had biographies for Maracle and Sasakamoose in its data base, but only had Sasakamoose described as indigenous.

So who was Henry Elmer “Buddy” Maracle?

He was a 5-foot-11 left wing whose professional career began in 1926-27 with the Springfield Indians of the old Canadian-AmericanHockey League. He spent four season with the Indians before he was traded to the Rangers in 1930-31. His hockey exploits garnered racist headlines like “Indian Puck Star” and “Redskin Icer.”

He ended his professional playing career in 1936-37 after skating for the Indians, Philadelphia Arrows, New Haven Eagles, and Bronx Tigers of the old Canadian-American Hockey League, and the Tulsa Oilers of the American Hockey Association. He briefly served the Oilers’ player/head coach during the 1936-37 season, according to HockeyDB.com.

The hockey statistics site says that Maracle played amateur senior hockey for the Detroit Holzbaugh-Fords of the Michigan-Ontario Hockey League in 1938-39 

Maracle became a U.S. citizen and worked in auto and tire plants in Detroit. He gave up his Mohawk status in 1955, according to Schmidt-Adeney’s research. Three years later, Maracle died from a kidney disorder in 1958 at the age of 53. He was a produce truck driver living in Dallas, Texas,  at that time.

“It’s interesting that it all happened at the same time,” Schmidt-Adeney said of Maracle becoming a U.S. and relinquishing his Mohawk ties. “What happened? Why did he give up his status? I don’t know.”

So how did history bypass Maracle?

Schmidt-Adeney doesn’t think it was a deliberate slight. She surmises that it was, in part, a result of a dark period of Canada’s history when First Nations youth were sent to residential schools – church-run, government-funded institutions that were established to “aggressively assimilate” students to white Canadian culture.

The schools were unpleasant places where abuse – physical, mental, and sexual – occurred. Residential schools first opened in the 19th Century and the last one closed in 1996.

About 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Metis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools, CBC News reported in 2008.

“People didn’t say they had young children because they didn’t want them taken away,” Schmidt-Adeney told me. “There was that whole issue and there were other issues at that time that Maracle was born that would make him harder to find.”

“It was 100 years ago, we didn’t have the Internet, we didn’t have communication,” she added. “Not only did we not have communication, we had a government that was taking children away. So it’s completely understandable that this information (about Maracle) didn’t come out.”

Also contributing to the mystery of Maracle is the fact that he grew estranged from his family some time after 1939. Schmidt-Adeney said she hopes to learn more from a Maracle descendant who she recently found.

“I reached out to her via email, but no response (yet),” Schmidt-Adeney told me.

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With taunts hurled at NHL draftee Givani Smith, racism rears its ugly head again

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Again.

Once again the racist underbelly in hockey has exposed itself – this time in the OntarioHockey League, this time to Kitchener Rangers right wing Givani Smith.

Right wing Givani Smith is a 2016 Detroit Red Wings second round draft pick.

 Smith, 20, received a death threat and was subjected to racial slurs from so-called hockey “fans” via social media following  the Rangers 4-3 overtime win on April 29 against the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds in Game Six of  the OHL Playoffs.

Smith, a 2016 Detroit Red Wings second round draft pick and the younger brother of Dallas Stars center Gemel Smith, flipped a middle finger toward the Greyhounds bench after he assisted on the game-winning goal. Smith’s gesture earned him a Game 7 suspension by the OHL.

He also received something else that no one deserves – racist vitriol.

Some knuckle-dragger  sent a photo of Smith to his Facebook account with the caption “Hockey N*****,”  according to The Waterloo Region Record, which first reportedon the incident.

The venom on social media was bad enough that the Rangers needed a police escort from Sault Ste. Marie Airport to their hotel and to the Greyhound’s’ arena for Game 7. Smith served his suspension in the press box with a security guard posted outside.

Kitchener Rangers right wing Givani Smith apparently endured racially-tinged incidents during the 2017-18 Ontrario Hockey League season and playoffs (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

“Before we went up to the Soo there were racial things in his inbox on social media,” Rangers General Manager Mike McKenzie told The Record’s Josh Brown. “It was pretty disgusting to see some the stuff that he had to deal with.”

Bad enough that OHL Commissioner David Branch told The Record that “We took the step to provide security over and above what we would normally do for a game.”

“We wanted to make sure Givani was comfortable and certainly hopefully free from any challenge or issue,” Branch added.

But the disturbing part about the episode is apparently Smith had been racially-targeted well before his Game 6 finger gesture.

Following a regular season game against the OHL’s Sarnia Sting in Sarnia, a man poked his head in the tunnel used by the visiting team “and yelled a racial slur down the hall,” McKenzie told the Record.

And apparently there were things said toward Smith during the Rangers semifinal series against the Sting.

The Record also reported that the Rangers heard “derogatory comments” from behind their bench in Sault Ste. Marie during their series with the Greyhounds and that “there were allegations that some players may have crossed the line as well.”

No so-called “fans” or players have been punished for actions toward Smith. Branch told The Record that the OHL works “to make sure that everyone respects one another’s diversities whether its race, sex, where a person is born, their sexual orientation or their way of life.”

“We have zero tolerance with language or conduct which evidences a lack or respect or disregard for the differences that exist among our players,” Branch added.

But the league hasn’t  issued a formal statement on what it’s doing regarding the Smith matter. The only notice regarding Smith on the OHL’s website is his Game 7 suspension.

And it’s not like Branch and the OHL haven’t dealt with something like this before. In 2003 then-Greyhounds Coach and General Manager John Vanbiesbrouck called defenseman and team captain Trevor Daley the N-word in front of several players.

The OHL fined the team $50,000 which was, at the time, the stiffest penalty in league history. Vanbiesbrouck, a former goaltender who played in the NHL for 19 years, resigned from the team prior to the fine. He also sold his stake in the Greyhounds.

Ironically Daley now plays for the Red Wings, the team that drafted Smith.

The Smith incident is the latest episode of racial hostility toward hockey players of color at almost every level of the game – from pee wee to the pros.

In March, Mark Connors, a black 12-year-old pee wee goaltender from Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada, was called the N-word  during a game.

The opposing player who used the epithet  received a 45-day suspension and Mark received a groundswell of support from the Nova Scotia government to Chicago Blackhawks forward Anthony Duclair.

Right wing Givani Smith tallied 17 goals and 13 assists in 46 games playing for the OHL’s Kitchener Storm and Guelph Storm (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

But Mark’s story also revealed that it wasn’t the first time the boy was racially taunted. His father, Wayne Connors, told the CBC that his son had endured racial slurs while playing hockey for six years.

In February, so-called “fans” racially taunted Washington Capitals forward DevanteSmith-Pelly as he sat in the penalty box  inside Chicago’s United Center during a gameagainst the Blackhawks.

The verbal assailants were removed from the arena and banned from all Blackhawks home games.

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Stanley Cup dreams deferred, some NHL players seek gold at IIHF championship

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Their dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup deferred for at least another season, several National Hockey League players are going for the gold overseas, and players of color are no exception.

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez are in Denmark hoping to power their countries to a gold medal at the International Ice HockeyFederation World Championship, which begins Friday.

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse suits up for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship in Denmark.

Nurse’s Team Canada will face Martinez’s Team USA in an opening round match Friday at Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning, Denmark, at 10:15 a.m. Eastern Time. The NHL Network will televise the May 4-20 tourney in the United States and TSN will carry it in Canada.

Nurse and Martinez became available to play in the 16-country tournament after the Oilers had a disappointing 2017-18 season and didn’t qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Kings got swept in the first round by the surprising expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

They’ll join other NHLers whose teams also either missed the playoffs or suffered early Stanley Cup exits to form world championship tournament squads with way more talent than the U.S. and Canadian teams that skated at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Those teams were stocked with U.S. and Canadian players from North American minor leagues, colleges, European and Russian leagues after the NHL opted not to suspend operations during the Winter Games to allow its players to participate.

So how good are these IIHF teams?

Team Canada is captained by Oilers center Connor McDavid,  he of 41 goals and 67 assists in 82 games.

He’s joined by fellow Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (24 goals, 24 assists, 62 games);  St. Louis Blues center Brayden Schenn (24 goals, 46 assists, 82 games); New York Islanders center  Mathew Barzal (22 goals, 63 assists, 82 games); Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly (24 goals, 37 assists, 81 games); and, of course, Nurse (6 goals, 20 assists, 82 games).

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez plays for the U.S. at the IIHF World Championship.

Martinez (9 goals, 16 assists, 77 games) is joined on the U.S. team by Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (27 goals, 49 assists, 82 games);  Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau(24 goals, 60 assists, 80 games); New York Rangers left wing Chris Krieder (16 goals, 21 assists, 58 games); Blackhawks right wing  Alex DeBrincat (28 goals, 24 assists, 82 games); and Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson ( 24 goals, 22 assists, 65 games).

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (27 goals, 20 assists, 62 games) is representing Sweden at the worlds. He tallied a goal and an assist in Sweden’s 5-0 rout of Belarus on Friday.

And speaking about international hockey tournaments, congrats to Team USA defenseman K’Andre Miller and Team Canada forwards Serron Noeland Akil Thomas –three potential first-round picks at the 2018 NHL Draft in June – for their play at the 2018 IIHF U18 World Championship that ended last weekend in Russia.

OHL Niagara IceDogs center Akil Thomas scored a goal at the IIHF U18 World Championship in Russia (Photo/Terry Wilson/OHL Images).

Noel, a right wing for the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals    who’s ranked the 10th-best North American skater eligible for the draft by NHL Central Scouting, had 2 goals and 4 assists in  five games for Canada.

Thomas, a center for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, tallied a goal and an assist in four games. Thomas is ranked the 15th-best North American skater in the draft by Central Scouting.

Forward Serron Noel of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals scored two goals for Canada at the IIHF U18 World Championship (Photo/Terry Wilson/OHL Images).

Miller, ranked as the 23rd-best North American skater available for the June 22-23 draft in Dallas, had a goal and 2 assists for the silver medal-winning U.S. team that lost 3-2 to Finland in the tournament final.

K’Andre Miller helped anchor the defense and chipped in with a goal and 2 assists for the United States at the IIHF U18 World Championship.

Whichever NHL team selects Miller will have to wait for his services. He’s committed to play hockey for the University of Wisconsin Badgers starting this fall.

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Items of unsung First Nations women’s hockey star go to Hockey Hall of Fame

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Bev Beaver was one of Canada’s best women’s hockey players, and perhaps one of the country’s least-known. The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is out to change that.

The Hall  plans to display hockey jerseys and patches from Beaver, a Mohawk from Southern Ontario’s Six Nations Reserve who played competitive hockey for over four decades, in its diversity exhibit.

Her hockey artifacts will join a hockey stick used by Brigette Lacquette, a defenseman who made history at the 2018 Winter Olympics as the first First Nations woman to play on Canada’s hockey team, in the Hall.

“I thought it was really great that they asked for some of my things,” Beaver, 70, said of Hall of Fame officials. “But sometimes I have mixed feelings. Sometimes I think I wasn’t really that good, but some people tell me I was.”

Hockey jerseys and patches from Bev Beaver will become part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s diversity exhibit (Photo/Phil Pritchard/HHOF).

Angela James, the first black woman and second black player behind Edmonton Oilers goaltender Grant Fuhr to be enshrined in the Hall, said Beaver should have no doubts.

“Bev Beaver was great, she was a very good hockey player,” said James, who competed against Beaver toward the end of Beaver’s career in the old Central Ontario Women’s HockeyLeague, which was Eastern Canada’s top league for female players. “She had skill, she knew how to play the game.”

M. Ann Hall, a University of Alberta emeritus professor who has written extensively about Canadian women in sports, said Beaver was “a real pioneer,” a multi-sport athlete who probably could have been an Olympian if women had the opportunity to play hockey in the Winter Games during her heyday.

Beaver began playing competitive hockey in 1963 with the Six Nations Indian GirlsHockey Club and ended her career – sort of – in the early 1990s with the Brantford Lady Blues.

She “retired” but couldn’t stay away from the ice. She continued to play for senior and recreational women’s teams into her fifties. Women’s hockey didn’t become an Olympic sport until 1998, long after Beaver finally hung up her skates.

“It’s too bad they didn’t have it (Olympics women’s hockey) when I was still playing,” Beaver said. “I figure I would be able to play, I would make the team I had enough talent to make the team.”

But would she have gotten a fair shot, given the racial attitudes of the times?

“She’s on a reserve, for her ability to move off and play, there’s discrimination, racism, all kinds of things she would be having to deal with,” Hallsaid.

Center Bev Beaver played competitive hockey into her fifties, winning championships, scoring titles and MVP awards (Photo/HHOF).

Beaver won a bevy of scoring titles – she was the COWHL’s leading scorer in 1967 and 1972 and the league’s second-best scorer from 1969 to 1971 – and powered her clubs to numerous league and tournament crowns. She also collected five most valuable player awards along the way.

She had to overcome sexism to play the game that she still loves and watches regularly (she’s a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan). When she was young, Beaver used to disguise herself as a boy in order to play pick up or shinny hockey on the frozen ponds at the Six Nation reserve.

“I would just wear a ball cap or a toque or whatever,” Beaver recalled. “If they asked what my name was, I’d say ‘Billy’ for some reason.”

When puberty ensued, “I would tape my breasts so they couldn’t tell,” Beaver told the authors of “Playing it Forward: 50 Years of Women and Sport in Canada.”

Once her identity was revealed, Beaver joined a bantam boys hockey team at 13 and became its star player. But she was only allowed to play in exhibition games because girls weren’t allowed to play in league contests.

Beaver’s athletic prowess wasn’t limited to hockey. In the summer, she was a top fastball (softball) player for the Oshweken Mohawks, winning eight MVP awards and other accolades for a career on the diamond that spanned from 1961 to 1994.

“I played both sports for 35 years or more,” Beaver said. “I was fortunate enough to play both sports that I really enjoyed.

In addition to hockey, Bev Beaver was one of Canada’s best fast pitch softball players for over 30 years (Photo/HHOF).

She won a regional Tom Longboat Award in 1967 and a national Longboat award in 1980. The awards are presented to Canada’s top aboriginal athletes.

“She was one of the first indigenous women to be identified in Canada as one of the most outstanding athletes in the county because the award didn’t make a distinction between men and women at the time, said Janice Forsyth, director of the First Nations Studies Program at Western University in London, Ontario. “She was identified as the top athlete, period.”

Beaver’s fastball career also earned her induction in the Brantfort and Area Sports Hall of Recognitionin 1995.

She joined former National Hockey League players Wayne Gretzky, Keith Jones, and Doug Risebrough and  former NHL coach and general  manager John Muckler in the Brantford Hall.

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Stephen A. Smith pokes fun of black football player talking about hockey. Seriously?

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If ignorance is bliss, then ESPN talking head Stephen A. Smith must truly be in a happy place.

He once again displayed his sports knowledge on the Worldwide Leader’s “First Take” by ragging on University of Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin for talking about the Stanley Cup Playoffs and his beloved Tampa Bay Lightning on the show.

“Well, first of all, he deserves a lot of credit – he’s a black man talking hockey. Congratulations,”  Smith responded to Griffin’s hot take that the ‘Bolts will win the Cup. “Let me tell you something  -you certainly ain’t going to get me to do it. So congratulations. The versatility, my brotha. You probably got a job here once your playing career is over based on that take alone.”

Lovely.

I understand  that shows like “First Take” are more about entertainment than sports – remember, ESPN stands for Entertainment Sports Programming Network – and that Smith is the top carnival barker for that circus.

Smith’s hockey rant may be schtick. But it helps a demeaning stereotype stick. For the record, quite a few of us talk about hockey, and we’re quite black.

Let’s see. There’s Popeye Jones, a former National Basketball Association center and current Indiana Pacers assistant coach, talking hockey and his son, Columbus BlueJackets defenseman Seth Jones.

There’s NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley who, for the second-post season in a row, said he’s watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There’s Karl Subban, a retired Toronto-area school principal who shares knowledge about raising three sons who are playing hockey at the highest levels. You might have heard of them.

There’s John C. Brittain, a distinguished civil rights attorney who may have been the first black player to captain a high school hockey team in New England in the early 1960s.

There’s Lt. Col. Ralph Featherstone, a U.S, Marine Corps aviator who was the first African-American to captain the U.S. Naval Academy’s hockey club.

There’s Thurgood Marshall Jr., son of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Oh, and there’s a hockey-related college scholarship program that carries the late justice’s name.

There’s Damon Kwame Mason, director of the award-winning black hockey history – yes, Stephen A., we have a hockey history – “Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future.

There’s David Amber, Kevin Weekes, Anson Carter and Tarik El-Bashir, who actually talk about hockey on television for a living.

There’s Lil Johnand Snoop Dogg, rappers who’ve wrapped their arms around the Stanley Cup.

There’s Angela James, Canada’s “female Wayne Gretzky” and the first black woman to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

And then there’s me.

So if Smith doesn’t like hockey, that’s cool. But his making light of black people who do isn’t.

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A changing of the guard among Great Britain’s ice hockey players of color

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Like the ceremonial changing of the guard outside London’s Buckingham Palace, ice hockey players of color in Great Britain are experiencing a generational shift.

Nottingham Panthers forward-assistant coach David Clarke, one of Great Britain’s greatest home-grown ice hockey players, retired from the game last month at the age of 36 last month.

He represented Great Britain over 90 times in international competition during a playing career that spanned from 1996-97 to 2017-18.

“In terms of a role model within British ice hockey… it was always great to see a black player in such a high-profile position not only at the highest playing level but also representing GB,” said Ethan James, a 19-year-old goaltender from London who played for Great Britain’s Under 20 team in December. “He’s definitely been the biggest name for all kids to follow.”

Nottingham Panthers forward says goodbye to fans in his final game. He retied as one of Great Britain’s most decorated players (Photo/Nottingham Panthers).

Now it’s the next generation’s turn to lead, and they’re eager to take the reins.

Team GB forward Mason Alderson Biddulph, was the fourth-leading scorer at the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World Championship Division II-Group A in Tallin, Estonia, earlier this month with 6 goals and 3 assists.

His nine points, tops for Great Britain, helped the team win a gold medal in the six-nation tournament and secure a promotion to IIHF Division I-Group B.

Mason Biddulph led the gold medal-winning British team in scoring and was the fourth-leading scorer among all players at the 2018 IIHF U18 world championship in April (Photo/Hendrik Soots).

Biddulph was voted best forward by the tournament’s directorate, selected best player for Great Britain by coaches, and was named bestTeam GB player in 6-3 victory over Estonia in which he had two goals.

“I had no expectations of what we were going to do at the world champs, as it was my first time there,” Biddulph said. “So when we won the gold medal in Estonia and earned promotion, it was a surreal feeling and a moment I will never forget. It was important to GB as it was the first promotion in ten years, but it was important to me as an individual because it became the highlight of my career so far.”

The 16-year-old’s performance was just part of a a stellar 2017-18 season. As captain of the Guildford Firekings U18 team, Biddulph scored 29 goals and 10 assists in nine regular season games.

Biddulph comes from a hockey family. His father, Brian Biddulph,  was a rugged defenseman who played in Great Britain from 1982-83 to 1999-00 for teams in Streatham, Slough, Peterborough and Lee Valley.

Great Britain forward Mason Biddulph, also known as Alderson, celebrates after scoring a goal against Estonia in April 2018 (Photo/Hendrik Soots).

The elder Biddulph also played junior hockey briefly in Canada for a team called the Langley Eagles in what was then known as the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.

Like his father, Mason Alderson Biddulph is looking to test his talents in North America. Next week, he’s scheduled to attend a training camp of the Smith Falls Bears, a Junior A team in the Central Canadian Hockey League.

“The ideal hockey path I want to take is the Canadian junior A to an NCAA college route because of the standard of hockey and the chance to get a good education,” the younger Biddulph said. “Of course, I’d hope to turn pro in North America with dreams of the NHL, like any kid. But I would never overlook playing in Europe’s top leagues like the KHLNLA, DEL. .. Magnus and Serie A.

Ethan James has already ventured across the pond to North America to play. He recently finished his second season with the Essa Stallions of the Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League.

He showed that size doesn’t matter when it comes to stopping the puck. The 5-foot-6 netminder compiled a 17-1 record in 24 games with the Stallions in 2017-18. He had a stingy goals-against average of 1.37 and a .949 save percentage, both CPJHL bests.

He backstopped the Stallions to the CPJHL championship with a 6-1 record playoffs record and a 2.16 goals-against average. James was a first-team CPJHL All-Star in 2016-17.

At 5-foot-6, British goalie Ethan James, playing in a CPJHL All-Star Game, is proving that size doesn’t matter in net (Photo/Mark Mauno).

“He’s got very good reflexes, he’s quick,” said Stallions Head Coach Sylvain Cloutier, a former American Hockey League and British Elite League forward who skated seven games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998-99. “If he was 6-foot-2, who knows where he’d be? ”

Hockey teams from juniors to the pros adore big goalies.  The average size of an NHL goalie is 6-foot-2 and about 201-pounds, but several goalies exceed that.  Dallas Stars netminder Ben Bishop is 6-foot-7; Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinneis 6-foot-5; and Pittsburgh Penguins backstopper Matt Murraystands 6-foot-4.

“I honestly think height shouldn’t matter,” James said.  “If the goalie that is 5-foot-7 can stop the puck just as well as a 6-foot-plus goalie, why shouldn’t they get the chance of going professional?”

Goaltender Ethan James manned the net for Great Britain at IIHF tournaments in 2016 and 2018.

James played for Team GB at the 2018 IIHF U20 World Championship Division II-Group A in Dumfries, Great Britain, in December, appearing in two games a posting a 2.55 goals-against average.

He also played in two games at the 2016 IIHF U18 World Championship Division II-Goup A, in Brasov, Romania, and posted a 5.35 goals-against average in a backup role.

James has become known on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for something more than his penchant for making big acrobatic saves: His big hair.

He has the best Afro in hockey this side of  retired WashingtonCapitals forward Mike Marson, who sported a natural to the NHL in the 1970s.  But James’ ‘Fro is rooted more in hockey superstition than fashion.

Superstitious, British goaltender Ethan James doesn’t cut his hair during hockey season (Photo/Courtesy Ethan James).

“When I was an Under 12 (player) with Romford I played with the Under 14s and we went undefeated that season and I never cut my hair during that season,” he said. “So ever since then, during the hockey season I just let my hair grow.”

And how does James fit those fluffy ‘Fro into his goalie mask?

“I just push the hair back and put the helmet on,” he said.

Just because David Clarke hung up his jersey doesn’t mean that Team GB is short a Clarke.  Morgan Clarke-Pizzo, his son, was a forward GB’s U20 team in December.

Clarke-Pizzo, 18, attends the Ontario Hockey Academywhere he scored 5 goals and 9 assists for its U18 team in 2017-18. He had 21 goals and 21 assists in 52 games in 2016-17.

He was scoreless in five games at the IIHF tournament in Dumfries but that didn’t stop his father from beaming with pride.

“Time flies for sure! I’m extremely proud to see him living his dream and representing his country and turning into a nice young man,” David Clarke told The Nottingham Post. “He’s still got a long way to go, but it’s good to see him and the team doing well.”

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

‘Hockey is for Everyone’ alum Duante’ Abercrombie begins climb up coaching ladder

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As a kid, Duante’ Abercrombie dreamed of playing for the Washington Little Capitals, a youth hockey program with a track record of developing players for junior, college and professional hockey teams.

Duante’ Abercrombie becomes head coach in a hockey program that helps develop players for collegiate, junior and pro hockey.

Almost after each practice with the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club – North America’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program – Abercrombie would ask his mother if he could join the Little Caps, too.

“We just didn’t have the money,” he recalled. “Coming from a family that knew absolutely nothing about hockey, it was hard to justify paying as much as it cost to play hockey when I was already doing the same thing with Fort Dupont.”

Abercrombie, 31, finally joined the Little Caps last week as the new head coach of the Washington Little Capitals 16U National Team. The appointment fulfills the Washington, D.C., native’s dreams of being affiliated with the program and pursuing a career in coaching that he hopes will lead a National Hockey League job someday.

“It’s just amazing how I’ve come from a time and place when I couldn’t even afford to try out for the team to now being the head coach of arguably the most critical age group they have in the U16’s,” he said. “It’s an opportunity that I don’t take lightly.”

Neal Henderson, founder and head coach of the 41-year-old Fort Dupont hockey program, was all smiles about Abrercrombie joining him in the head coaching fraternity.

Fort Dupont is part of the NHL’s “Hockey is For Everyone” initiative that provides support and unique programming to some 30 nonprofit profit youth hockey organizations across North America, offering kids of all backgrounds the opportunity to play the game.

Duante’ Abercrombie, right, with Neal Henderson, founder and head coach of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program (Photo/Courtesy Duante’ Abercrombie).

“It’s an honor to have had the opportunity to work with Duante’, and teach him, and put him on his first pair of skates,” Henderson said. “It’s an honor to see him progress the way he has, play hockey the way he has, and climb the ladder the way he has, and to stick with a trade that’s very difficult to maneuver through.

The Little Caps, a member of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League, has a proven record of developing players who go on to NCAA hockey programs, American Collegiate Hockey Association club teams, and junior leagues like the USHL.

Its most notable alum is Jeff Halpern, who had a lengthy NHL career with the Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings.

“It was a no brainer deciding that this was something that I had to be a part of,” Abercrombie said. “My plan is to teach my players how to use their individual skills within a team structure that not only leads to eventual team success on the score sheet, but also prepares them individually for what’s expected at the next levels.”

Hockey took Duante’ Abercrombie from Washington, D.C., to New Zealand and the U.S. minor league hockey towns. Here he’s facing off as a member of the Brewster Bulldogs of the Federal Hockey League (Photo/Courtesy Duante’ Abercrombie).

With his appointment, Abercrombie begins a journey to one of the final frontiers for people of color in hockey – the head coaching ranks.

There were no minority head coaches in the NHL in the 2017-18 season. Calgary Flames Assistant Coach Paul Jerrard was the only black NHL coach working the bench during games.

The NHL’s other minority coaches can be found on the practice ice or in the video room. Fred Brathwaite is the New York Islanders‘ goaltending coach and Sudarshan Maharaj tutors netminders for the Anaheim Ducks. Frantz Jean is the Tampa Bay Lightning’s goalie coach and Nigel Kirwan is a video coach for the ‘Bolts.

Little Capitals management considers Abercrombie “a rising star in the hockey development scene.”

“Talk to him for five minutes and you can feel his excitement and energy for this job,” said Little Capitals Hockey Director Matt Thomas. “His ability to develop players is a great asset to our organization, and particularly for our 16U team during this critical stage. I look forward to working with Duante’ to help our talented group of 16U players advance in their careers.”

A graduate of Gonzaga High School, Abercrombia had a brief professional career playing for the West Auckland Admirals in New Zealand, the Steel City Warriors of the Federal Hockey League, and the FHL’s Brewster Bulldogs.

He’s even skated for the Jamaican ice hockey Olympic team effort coached by

Graeme Townshend, the NHL’s first Jamaican-born player, and Cyril Bollers, director of player development for Canada’s Skillz Black Aces program.

He developed an appreciation for hockey training and coaching through participation in rigorous conditioning programs like BTNL and Twist in Ontario and serving as an instructor for three years in a hockey school in Maine run by Townshend.

For the last two seasons, Abercrombie served as a hockey coach for Georgetown Preparatory School.

“Having scouted and been a skills consultant at the ACHA and NCAA levels, I will spend time developing the skills and habits that junior programs and colleges look for, and my ultimate goal is to teach (players) how to play the game with a ‘Winning Attitude’ all the time,” he said.

Abercrombie said he stands on the shoulders of other black coaches who’ve mentored him – Townshend and Henderson – and credit them for his progress.

“Duante’ is one of the best instructors I had,” Townshend said. “He comes from a background where there wasn’t a lot of hockey. He’s come a long way just because of that (Fort Dupont) program there. He’s always studying the game, he’s always learning and improving his craft. All those reasons make him a good coach.”

Thompson believes that the sky’s the limit for Abercrombie now that he has his foot in the coaching door.

“He’s now definitely in that realm where he’s going to start meeting people and start working his way up the ladder,” he said.

Henderson predicts that other Fort Dupont pupils will follow in Abercrombie’s  path and become bench bosses for teams.

“Coming out of our group, for as old as it is, you’re going to find more doing it, such as Ralph Featherstone, and other men who have gone on in hockey to reach certain pinnacles in it,” Henderson said.

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Players of color play pivotal roles in 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs first round games

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs have only just begun but players of color are already having a major impact in opening-round games.

From the East Coast to the West Coast, minority players played pivotal roles for their teams in first-round contests.

Forward Evander Kane showed why the San Jose Sharks obtained him from the Buffalo Sabres shortly before the trading deadline. He scored two second period goals in his first-ever National Hockey League playoff game, helping the Sharks defeat the Anaheim Ducks 3-0.

The 26-year-old Vancouver native became the fourth player in the last 20 years to have a multiple goal game in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, according to the NHL.

“It was nice to finally get out in the playoff atmosphere, and it was fun to finally get my first playoff win,” Kane told reporters after the game. “It’s finally nice to contribute. That’s my job. I feel confident in my abilities. I don’t think it was my best game, but I’m never going to be mad when we get a playoff win and I get to contribute.”

Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly flashed some of the playoff magic he displayed  four seasons ago as a member of the Ducks, scoring a third-period goal that gave the Caps a 3-2 lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night.

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Not to be outdone, Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones scored a power play goal that tied the game at 3. The Blue Jackets won the game 4-3 in overtime, deflating the playoff euphoria inside Washington’s Capital One Arena.

In addition to his goal, Jones led all skaters in the game with 30:59 minutes of ice time, further building the case for his consideration for the Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s best defenseman.

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Jones was tenth among NHL defensemen in scoring in the 2017-18 regular season with 16 goals and 41 assists in 78 games.

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones.

“If he’s in Los Angeles, or he’s in Montreal, or in Toronto, or New York, we’re talking about this guy as a Norris Trophy candidate,” ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose told The Columbus Dispatch last month. “He does get overlooked, but not by hockey guys that see him play…Every GM in the NHL would love to have Seth Jones, and every coach would love to have him in their lineup. Those guys are very, very hard to find.”

Winnepeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is another blueliner who’s come up big early in the playoffs.

Big Buff was an offensive and physical force in the Jets 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild Friday night.

He contributed a backhand saucer pass assist from behind the Wild net on teammate Paul Stastny’s third period goal and delivered crunching back-to-back hits on Minnesota players in the second period that energized the sellout crowd inside Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place.

Byfuglien logged a team-high 23:51 minutes of ice time Friday, helping him earn the game’s first star honor.

“Just another day at the office,” he told reporters afterward.

Wild rookie forward Jordan Greenway  is yet to score a goal in the series against the Jets.

But the former Boston University star did tally an assist Wednesday in the Wild’s 3-2 loss to Winnipeg on Wednesday and he continued to make hockey history as the first person to play in the Winter Olympics, the NCAA ice hockey tournament and the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the same year.

Greenway became the first African American to play on a U.S. Olympic hockey team when he skated at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

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Touted prospect Quinton Byfield drafted first overall by OHL’s Sudbury Wolves

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Congratulations to Quinton Byfield for being the first overall pick Saturday in the Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection draft.

The 15-year-old center from Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, was chosen by the Sudbury Wolves after he put up monster numbers for the York Simco Express, a minor midget AAA team, in the 2017-18 season: 48 goals and 44 assists in 34 games.

Quinton Byfield’s combination of size and scoring touch made him an easy Number One draft choice for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

Byfield will enter the OHL sporting gaudy minor midget numbers. He averaged 2.71 points per game, third-best in the Eastern AAA Minor Midget Hockey League’s recent history.

Only forwards Steven Stamkos (2.98) of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Taylor Hall (2.88) of the New Jersey Devils had better marks in their minor midget careers.

“He is an exceptional player with a great future and his potential is amazing and our coaching staff is eager to work with him,” Rob Papineau, the Wolves’ vice president of hockey operations and general manager said of the 6-foot-4, 203-pound Byfield. “Our scouting staff has been unanimous on Quinton as the best player in the draft all season and we know that the fans and people of Greater Sudbury are going to love the opportunity to watch such a special player in a Wolves uniform.”

Byfield said he’s ready to go out and prove that the Wolves made the right choice.

“I’ll do good with the pressure,” Byfield told reporters. “It will always be making me want to step up my game, face new challenges and I think it will be great for me.”

Saturday’s draft was merely a formality for Byfield. He knew that he’d be Sudbury’s pick and addressed the media about it on Friday.

“It feels really great, especially coming to Sudbury, it’s a great organization, great staff and everything, I feel like it will be a great fit for me playing with all the great players they have here,” he told reporters Friday.

The Wolves are a major junior team in the OHL, a 20-team league where young players showcase their talents in hopes of being drafted by a National Hockey League team once they turn 18 or older.

Quinton Byfiled says he thrives under pressure. The Number One overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection Draft will get to prove that for the Sudbury Wolves (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

“We put in place a goal to be a Memorial Cup contender with our mission being to develop 15-year-old boys into professional gentlemen of character when they leave our program,” Wolves Owner and Governor Dario Zulich said in a statement. “Quinton represents a significant step forward.”

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