What a week in Washington!
President Barack Obama delivered his last State of the Union address Tuesday and the National Hockey League and the Washington Capitals hosted a screening Wednesday of a full-length documentary on the history and growing impact of blacks in ice hockey.
“Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future” had its U.S. premiere before a near-capacity audience at Washington’s Landmark E Street Cinema with plenty of hockey star power on hand. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Washington Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis and Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz were in the house.
Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, former NHL goaltender/turned NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, former NHL forward and current MSG Networks and NBCSN hockey analyst Anson Carter were there for a post-screening question and answer session that I had the honor to moderate.
“It’s a story that needed to be told, but not many people even imagined it could exist,” Bettman said of the documentary. “If you told somebody about this movie without actually seeing it, they’d think it was a work of fiction, like ‘how could it be because I’ve never heard of such a thing’ is what you get from most people.”
Canadian filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason was on hand to gauge a U.S. audience’s response to a film that he poured his heart, soul, and wallet into for the last four years. Mason was so committed to the project that the former disc jockey sold his condo to help fund it.
Mason hasn’t seen a paycheck in about three years, but he basked in a wealth of applause and appreciative remarks from the D.C. audience Wednesday night.
“The biggest thing that this screening means to me is all that hard work, all those midnights worrying, all that stressing out, all that wondering what’s going to happen the next day, it made me feel like it was all worth it,” he told me. “For a guy who dreamed about doing a film, and being in a position like this, is remarkable.”
The film tells the little-told story of blacks in hockey from the Coloured Hockey League in the Canadian Maritimes in the 1800s to the exploits of forward Herb Carnegie – regarded as the best Canadian hockey player never to skate in the NHL – to O’Ree breaking in with the Boston Bruins, despite being blind in one eye.
While paying homage to the past, “Soul on Ice” examines the present by focusing on current stars like Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley.
It gives a glimpse of the game’s future by following the path of Owen Sound Attack forward Jaden Lindo from his Ontario Hockey League junior team to the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia. He was chosen by the Penguins in the sixth round of the draft with the 173rd overall pick.
Bettman and other NHL officials had seen the movie earlier, but Ken Martin, the league’s senior vice president of community and diversity programming, didn’t let O’Ree, who is the NHL’s director of youth development, get an early peek at Mason’s product.
When O’Ree watched his legacy on the big screen, the hockey pioneer who joined the Bruins in 1958, became emotional.
“Unbelievable,” he told NHL.com. “Now I know why he didn’t want me to see it. It was breathtaking, really. I was thrilled when I saw it.”
Trotz, who coached forward Joel Ward when he was with the Capitals and Nashville Predators, said the documentary was an eye-opener.
“What I liked about it is it was three stories for me – it was a history of the game, Kwame’s story, and it was young Jaden’s story,” Trotz told NHL.com. “There are some things that I feel ignorant on being someone in the game and not knowing all the story. It’s quite enlightening.”
Mason said the hard work of making the movie is over but the hard work of trying to get the documentary before the general public is still ahead of him.
He’s hoping to work with the NHL in getting it televised nationally by the NHL’s broadcast partners, NBC in the U.S. and Sportsnet in Canada.
For more information about the documentary, visit www.soulonicemovie.com.