American Hockey League, Cameron Burt, ECHL, Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, Gerald Coleman, Hockey is for Everyone, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tarasai Karega
Listen to National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman or anyone else connected with the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative and they’ll tell you that its goal is to build good people over building good hockey players.
“As nice as it would be to have graduates of these programs actually play in college (or the pros), the fact that there are children in these programs who stay in school and go to college is more important than whether or not they’re actually still playing because to me this is about life’s lessons,” Bettman told me in 2011.
But it seems that “Hockey is for Everyone” is doing both. Designed to expose boys and girls from all backgrounds to hockey and use the sport as a tool to encourage them to thrive in school, the more than 30 programs under the “Hockey is for Everyone” umbrella are also doing a pretty decent job of producing players good enough to skate for college hockey teams at all levels – and beyond.
Over the years, several graduates of “Hockey is for Everyone” programs and its precursor NHL Diversity initiative have made it onto NCAA hockey rosters, college and university club hockey teams, minor league squads, and even to the NHL for a hot minute.
“Hockey’s been good to me,” Cameron Burt, a defenseman for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades told me recently. “It’s gotten me to places I would have never gone.”
Indeed, hockey has taken Burt a long way since the day his mother enrolled him in the Detroit Hockey Association. The instruction and nurturing the program provided helped land him a hockey scholarship at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which in turn helped him embark on a professional career that he hopes will lead to a spot in the NHL.
“It was good for me,” Burt said of his DHA experience. “I still look back at pictures of me playing in early years. It gave us an outlet to do something different. It was something that was ours right there in the city and no one could take it away from us. It was the best place for me to start.”
Burt has two goals and 15 assists in 22 games for the Everblades this season. He tallied 43 goals and 95 assists in four seasons at Division I Rochester from 2008-09 to 2011-12. The 2009-10 season was especially sweet for Burt because RIT played in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament, held that year in hometown Detroit at Ford Field.
About 173 miles separate Estero, Fla., home of Burt’s Everblades, and Orlando, Fla., the new home of Tarasai Karega, yet the distance in the Sunshine State can’t melt the ties that bind the two hockey players.
Like Burt, Karega got her hockey start with the Detroit Hockey Association, where the the two developed a friendship. Like Burt, hockey provided a collegiate path for Karega.
She attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where she was a standout for the NCAA Division III Lord Jeffs. She was named first team New England Small College Athletic Conference in 2006-07 as a sophomore and notched 61 goals and 51 assists in 110 games during her collegiate career while maintaining a 3.34 grade-point average.
In the 2008-09 season Karega became one of the first black women to win an NCAA hockey title when the Lord Jeffs won the Division III crown.
After college, Karega moved to Philadelphia where she served as hockey operations coordinator for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, a “Hockey is for Everyone” affiliate created by the founder of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Today, she’s a premium guest services representative for the National Basketball Association’s Orlando Magic. She still keeps up with hockey, attending ECHL Orlando Solar Bears games.
Gerald Coleman’s NHL career was fleeting – 43 minutes over two games in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2005-06 – but significant nonetheless. He was the first NHL Diversity alum to play in the league.
Coleman played in the program in Evanston, Ill., as a teenager while also playing for a AA travel team. Playing AA hockey was more challenging, Coleman said, but the NHL Diversity program provided him with a comfort zone from those who questioned why a 6-foot- five-inch black kid would want to play a predominantly white sport like hockey.
“I felt at home when I was with that group,” Coleman told me recently. “When I was playing with my travel team, I had racial slurs hurled against me from parents, from the kids. They always looked down upon me because I was different from everyone else.”
Coleman’s skill caught the attention of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. After three seasons in net for the major junior hockey team, the Lightning took Coleman in the seventh round with the 224th pick in the 2003 NHL Draft.
Coleman’s NHL stat line is scant – two games, 43 minutes, two goals against, 2.77 goals-against average, .882 save percentage – but he enjoyed a lengthy minor league hockey career. He spent nine seasons stopping pucks for 10 ECHL and American Hockey League teams.
“Even though I didn’t make it in the NHL, at least I made it a lot farther than I could have done in my life,” Coleman said.
Chronic hip problems forced Coleman to retire in August at the age of 29, but his career ended on a high note. He helped guide the Alaska Aces to ECHL’s Kelly Cup. Coleman’s hip pain helped inspire his post-playing career path – to become a physical therapist.
“I’m going to start going to school in January and I’m working at a rehab facility in Chicago. Over the last three years with my injuries, I was in rehab for six months every summer. I know the ins and outs of it. I know it could lead me back to hockey, if not coaching.”
Coleman, Karega, and Burt say they keep tabs on their old hockey programs and are proud to see “Hockey is for Everyone” alums continuing their progress educationally while keeping their passion for playing the game.
Four of Karega’s former charges from Snider Hockey are playing for college teams this season: Elizabeth and Kimberly Feeney on the University of Pennsylvania’s American Collegiate Hockey Association Division III club team; Alivia Bates at NCAA Division III Plymouth State University in New Hampshire; and Saidie Lopez on New Jersey’s Rowan University women’s hockey club.
Sixteen other Snider Hockey alums tried out for college club hockey teams at local Temple University, Drexel University and West Chester University.
Malik Garvin, a forward who got his hockey start with New York’s Ice Hockey in Harlem, is enjoying his first season playing for Division III Western New England University in Massachusetts.
Devan Abercrombie, a former member of Washington’s Fort Dupont Hockey Club, is a freshman forward for St. Joseph University’s club hockey team in Philadelphia.
He’s attending St. Joe’s on a full four-year ride as a 2014 NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarship recipient. The scholarship is awarded annually to academically-eligible “Hockey is for Everyone” participants.
Donnie Shaw III, another Fort Dupont alum and a 2013 NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarship recipient, is a sophomore at Elmira College in New York and plays for the Soaring Eagles NCAA Division III junior varsity team.