Larry Kwong, the NHL’s first player of color, passes away at 94


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Larry Kwong made hockey history in a minute.

In one game, one shift, one minute on the ice with the New York Rangers on March 13, 1948, Kwong became the first person of color, the first player of Asian heritage, to skate in the National Hockey League.

That game was the sum of Kwong’s NHL career, but he left a lasting legacy on the game as seen by the number of minorities in hockey – on the ice, in the owner’s suite, behind the bench, and behind the mic – today.

Larry Kwong, center, only played one minute in the National Hockey League with the New York Rangers but he helped pave the way for other players of color (Photo/Courtesy Chad Soon).

Kwong passed away on March 15 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, at the age of 94, two days after the 70th anniversary of his NHL debut.

“The man was just the biggest gentleman you’ll ever meet, so humble but so accomplished from the standpoint of hockey,” said Brad Kwong, no relation, a managing partner of the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League.

With his 60-second shift, Larry Kwong “created a shift in perception for minority people in Canada, and he had an impact in the (United) States as well,” said Chad Soon, a family friend who has campaigned for greater recognition for the high-scoring forward who was nicknamed “King Kwong” and the “China Clipper.”

“Born in Canada but not being considered Canadian, growing up in a country that had officially racist laws that prevented Chinese people from coming, that prevented Chinese-Canadians from voting, to achieve the Canadian dream coming from those humble beginnings is something,” Soon told me. “Society may not have been ready for him given that he was given only that one minute, but he opened the door and moved society forward.”

Kwong was born in Vernon, British Columbia in 1923, the 14th of 15 children. The son of a grocery store owner, he was lured to hockey by Foster Hewitt’s play-by-play accounts of games on “Hockey Night in Canada” radio broadcasts.

He begged his parents for a pair of skates and eventually got a $19 pair of oversized CCM’s.

At 5-foot-6, Kwong developed into a speedy skater and a shifty center. He joined the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1941-42 after a successful midget hockey career. During World War II, he joined the Canadian army and  mesmerized troops with his hockey skills.

His play also caught the attention of the Rangers. The team offered him a tryout in 1946. The audition earned Kwong a spot on the New York Rovers, the Rangers’ farm team in the old Eastern Hockey League.

Kwong became a scoring threat and a Rovers fan favorite, tallying 52 goals and 71 assists in 112 games.

His minor league performance, and a rash of injures on the Rangers, prompted the a promotion to the parent club. Wearing Rangers red, white and blue, Kwong faced the Montreal Canadiens on March 13, 1948.

Kwong sat through the first two periods, waiting Rangers Head Coach Frank Boucher to put him in the game. He got his chance near the end of the third period with the game tied at two.

“They got me out there and I did the best I could,” Kwong told me in 2015 for an article in “Legends,” the official program guide for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Kwong was one minute and done for the game and the NHL. He never asked the Rangers why he didn’t get a longer look.

“Oh, I was disappointed that I didn’t play more. I just let it be,” he told me in 2015. “I always thought the coach knew what he was doing. Maybe he had orders from the top brass. I don’t know.”

Larry Kwong isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but a jersey he wore when he played for the Nanaimo Clippers in 1942-43 is in the hockey shrine (Photo/Courtesy Chad Soon).

Brad Kwong, whose family knew Larry Kwong, figures that the late player never asked why because he seldom dwelled on the negative.

“He was a very positive person, very optimistic,” Brad Kwong said. “Later in life, he lost both legs to poor circulation. Even then, he’d be visiting my parents house, laughing joking and everything – a man without two legs, but always optimistic. I think that was a part of his nature, growing up the way he did, a family with 15 kids, fighting for what he had, but just being optimistic and thankful for what he had, what he was able to do.”

Larry Kwong quit the Rangers after the 1947-48 season and joined the Valleyfield Braves of the Quebec Senior Hockey League.

He notched 164 goals and 220 assists in 347 QSHL regular season games from 1948-49 to 1952-53 and was named the league’s most valuable player in 1951.

Kwong tallied another 51 goals and 61 assists in 147 games with the Braves from from 1953-54 to 1955-56 when the team was in the Quebec Hockey League.

Kwong ended his North American playing career in 1956-57, a season before forward Willie O’Ree became the NHL’s first black player when he joined the Boston Bruins.

Kwong left the game in 1960-61 after playing for the Nottingham Panthers in England and HC Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland.  He also coached in Switzerland for Ambri-Piotta and HC Lugano.

While O’Ree has been hailed as the “Jackie Robinson” of hockey, Soon and others feel that Kwong hasn’t been given sufficient due for his accomplishments in the game.

One of Kwong’s jerseys is on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame, but Brad Kwong believes that “King Kwong” should be in the hockey shrine in Toronto.

Former Mighty Ducks of Anaheim star forward Paul Karyia, a Canadian of Japanese descent, is currently the only player of Asian heritage in the Hall, inducted in November 2017.

“I look at what the Hockey Hall of Fame stands for and what it tries to honor and I think (Larry Kwong) has accomplished something that very few have,”  Brad Kwong told me.

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Minority hockey program helps Featherstone reach the skies in the U.S. Marine Corps


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Before he flew in U.S. Marine Corps fighter jets, Ralph Featherstone took flight inside a run-down ice skating rink on Ely Place Southeast in Washington, D.C.

Before he became a ramrod straight lieutenant colonel, Featherstone was a Fort Dupont Cannon, an African-American teenager in the 1990s learning how to play hockey in the oldest minority youth hockey program in North America.

His sense of duty and love of hockey converged when he attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis and joined the school’s hockey club.

U.S. Marine Corps Let. Col. Ralph Featherstone.

Like a plebe, he rose through the ranks, advancing from a seldom-used second-unit penalty kill specialist on the team to become the first African-American team captain in Navy hockey club history.

“The biggest attribute that I learned at Fort Dupont was persistence,” Featherstone told me. “That’s been one of the main things in my life, in my career, my personal life. Being  persistent will make up for a load of shortcomings.”

The academy and the National Hockey League honored Featherstone last month – Black History Month – with a moving video scoreboard salute between periods of the Washington CapitalsToronto Maple Leafs game played outdside at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

He also participated in a ceremonial puck drop last month when the Capitals paid tribute to the Fort Dupont Cannons, Founder/Coach Neal Henderson and his staff, before a game against the Buffalo Sabres at Washington’s Capital One Arena.

“I got a standing O from the Navy/Marine Corps crowd, which was awesome,” Featherstone said of the outdoor game salute. “Hockey has done me right.”

So has the Marine Corps. Featherstone is a desk officer for the FB-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Office in suburban Washington. This summer, he’ll move to San Diego and Marine Corps Air Station Mirimar to become the commanding officer of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225,  also known as the Vikings, next year.

For Featherstone, 40, it all goes back to hockey and the lessons taught by tough-love Coach Neal inside the Fort Dupont Ice Arena on Ely Place Southeast.

“He did it by making you overcome obstacles, not handing out things, not allowing you to feel that you’re entitled to play, entitled to ice time,” Featherstone said of Henderson. “Everything is based on your performance and you earning those things. You realize after hard work, after the effort and dedication, that you’ll achieve those things that you want. Those are some of the early life lessons in the game of hockey that are analogous to things that occur throughout life.”

A lesson learned quickly when Featherstone visited Annapolis at the end of his junior in high school junior to observe what freshman life at the Naval Academy was like.

“I did a one-week camp there and on the last day, they treat you like a plebe, like a freshman,” Featherstone recalled. “I was looking around, these kids are crying from the intensity of getting turned up. And I was, like, ‘This is nothing. Come out to Fort Dupont, I’ll show you what getting yelled at feels like. This is easy.'”

While Featherstone loved his four years at Annapolis, his tenure there also had its challenges. A top player at Fort Dupont, he was anything but on the Midshipmen hockey club.

That led him to question his talent and to feel somewhat isolated as the only black player on the team and in the Eastern College Hockey Association at the time.

“I honestly questioned whether or not I was good at the sport, I questioned whether I loved hockey or loved being at Fort Dupont with my friends,” he recalled. “I was very much down on myself and wondering, ‘Hey I don’t know if this is really for me at this level.'”

From Anacostia to Annapolis. Ralph Featherstone, an alum of Washington, D.C.,’s Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, was the first African-American to captain the U.S. Naval Academy’s ice hockey club (Photo/Courtesy Ralph Featherstone).

Those doubts were gone by his senior year when he became the Midshipmen’s starting center and his teammates voted to give him the captain’s “C,” the symbol of being the squad’s undisputed leader.

“It was awesome, it was probably one of the biggest accomplishments in my life up to that point,” Featherstone recalled. “Making that transition, that journey from penalty kill-2 to team captain was something that I was really proud of.”

He had the respect of his teammates, but not from some of the opponents that he faced. Featherstone recalled the sting of being called a racial slur on the ice during one game in the 1997-98 season. He reached back to lessons ingrained at Fort Dupont and at home.

A call to duty and a love of hockey combined for Ralph Featherstone at the U.S. Naval Academy (Photo/Courtesy of Ralph Featherstone).

“In playing for Coach Neal, you can’t allow that to bother you,” Featherstone said. “And having a frank discussion with my dad, he was, like, ‘You’re in a different realm. You’re in a world that if that bothers you, maybe you shouldn’t play, maybe you shouldn’t be in that environment.”

“With dad and Coach Neal taking that stance, I kind of saw that as a challenge to rise above that type of thing, when you know someone is doing it only to manipulate you and get you off your game,”  Featherstone added.

Featherstone also applied lessons learned at Dupont  to help get him through aviation training in Pensacola, Florida.

He suffered from air sickness, not an unusual malady for new aviators. But his lasted 15 months, an unusually long and potentially career-crippling amount of time.

“I would puke two to three times a week when I would go fly – it was like a Pavlovian response of getting in an aircraft,” he recalled. “Within 15 minutes I’m getting queasy and about another 10 minutes later, I’m vomiting and trying to hang on.”

Ralph Featherstone’s U.S. Naval Academy hockey teammates voted him team captain in his senior year (Photo/Courtesy of Ralph Featherstone).

Determined to make it through flight training, Featherstone remembered what Coach Neal and his dad taught him about dealing with racially uncomfortable situations.

“‘Hey, if you can’t deal with the discomfort, someone calling you a name, you have to reconcile for yourself that this is not going to bother you or maybe you need to think about something else to do,'” Featherstone said. “Same thing with the flying. ‘Okay, you need to reconcile that you’re probably going to get sick and either you’re going to gut this out and still perform or maybe you need to go in there and tell them that this is not for you,’ which was not an option for me.”

U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Ralph Featherstone is flying high after overcoming a severe bout of air sickness in aviation training, applying lessons learned playing hockey for the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club (Photo/Courtesy Ralph Featherstone).

Today, jets are a major part of the lieutenant colonel’s life. So if Fort Dupont. Featherstone is a volunteer coach with the Cannons and his  9-year-old son, also named Ralph, plays for the team.

“It’s great having him out there – we can tell Coach Neal stories,” Featherstone said. “Coach’s nuances and his catch phrases haven’t changed in 40 years.”

For all that Fort Dupont has done for Featherstone, he said he didn’t realize his impact on the program until Duante Abercrombie, another Cannons alum, posted a thank you tribute to him on Facebook a few years ago after meeting him.

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy where he played ice hockey, Ralph Featherstone went into the U.S. Marine Corps. A lieutenant colonel, he’ll command an air squadron next year (Photo/Courtesy Ralph Featherstone).

“Ralph made my dreams tangible. I knew zero about his journey, but what I did know was that he looked like me and played where I played and hockey took him places, places other than Ely Place Southeast,” said Abercrombie, 31, who played professional hockey in the U.S. and New Zealand and is currently seeking collegiate hockey coaching opportunities.

“I still remember sitting in that old meeting room upstairs (at Fort Dupont) when Ralph presented Coach Neal with his college jersey,” Abercrombie added. “I don’t remember what was said in his speech, but that moment single-handedly set me on the path I’m still on today.”

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Sarah Nurse’s jersey, Brigette Lacquette’s stick get call from Hockey Hall of Fame


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Canadian women’s Olympic team hockey players Sarah Nurse and Brigette Lacquette aren’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame – but items they used at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang are.

The Hall collected forward Nurse’s white Team Canada jersey and one of defenseman Lacquette’s Bauer sticks shortly after the Winter Games’ conclusion on Feb. 25. Both artifacts are now at the Hockey museum in Toronto.

“It’s an honor to have represented Canada on the Olympic stage and have a piece of my journey in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Nurse told me recently. “I hope to inspire young girls of color to break barriers and play hockey, and never give up on whatever dreams they may have.”

The jersey that Canadian forward Sarah Nurse wore and the stick that defender Brigette Lacquette used at the 2018 Winter Olympics are in the Hockey Hall of Fame (Photo/Phil Pritchard/HHoF)

The items from the Silver Medal-winning Canadian players join the puck that Korean unified women’s Olympic hockey team forward Randi Griffin used to score Korea’s first-ever Olympic ice hockey goal.

Sarah Nurse’s Team Canada jersey and Brigette Lacquette’s stick have a home in the Hockey Hall of Fame (Photo/Phil Pritchard/HHoF).

The presence of Nurse’s jersey and Lacquette’s stick in the Hall are significant. Nurse is believed to be the first black woman to play for Team Canada in the Winter Olympics. Lacquette is the first First Nation woman to skate on a Canadian women’s Olympic squad. She is the daughter of a Cote First Nation mother and a Metis father.

Nurse, a former University of Wisconsin star and a 2016 second round draft pick of the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, scored a goal in five games in PyeongChang.

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She is the cousin of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and University of Connecticut women’s basketball point guard and 2016 Canadian Olympic hoopster Kia Nurse.

Lacquette, a defender for the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a former University of Minnesota-Duluth standout, recorded an assist in the five Winter Olympics contests and had a plus-minus rating of plus-3.

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Call for Willie O’Ree’s entry into Hockey Hall of Fame reaches U.S. Congress


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The call for Willie O’Ree’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame reached the U.S. Congress Tuesday.

Rep. Michael Quigley, a Democrat from Chicago, took to the floor of the House of Representatives and said that “there are few players worthier to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and it is long overdue that Willie be added to that list.”

Quigley referred to O’Ree, the National Hockey League’s first black player, as “the ‘Jackie Robinson’ of hockey” who overcame “racial slurs…and blindness in his right eye” to become “a trusted champion for diversity, a proponent of inclusion, and an inspiration for so many young players both on and off the ice.”

“Each February we celebrate Black History Month as well as ‘Hockey is for Everyone Month,‘ and no one embodies both of  those tributes as profoundly as living legend Willie O’Ree,” Quigley said on the House floor. “I thank him for his continued effort to increase access for all people of all backgrounds to get out on the ice and play the greatest game” in the world.

Quigley, a co-chair of the bipartisan  Congressional Hockey Caucus, has seen O’Ree’s impact up close. The congressman has watched O’Ree school kids hockey and life skills during visits to programs like Chicago’s Hockey on Your Block and Washington, D.C.’s, Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program.

His House speech adds to the effort to persuade member’s the Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee to induct O’Ree, who became the NHL’s first black player on Jan. 18, 1958 when his Boston Bruins faced the Montreal Canadiens at the old Montreal Forum.

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O’Ree, a forward, didn’t have a long NHL career – only 45 games over two seasons with 4 goals and 10 assists.

However, advocates are pushing for O’Ree’s Hall entry in the Builders category, focusing on his contributions as a mentor, role model, and advocate in growing hockey in communities previously overlooked by the sport.

According to the Hall,  the criteria for entry as a Builder is “Coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”

O’Ree fits those qualifications, supports say, because he has been an inspiration to a generation of young hockey players and hockey fans of color.

He has worked tirelessly as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador since 1998, traveling across the United States and Canada to visit youth hockey programs affiliated with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

O’Ree is also a revered figure to many of the NHL’s players, who seek him out for guidance and advice.

If admitted to the Hall, O’Ree would join the likes of Scotty Bowman, who won eight Stanley Cups coaching for the Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins; Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs;  legendary manager Conn Smythe;  and 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey Coach Herb Brooks.

The Hall’s Selection Committee is gearing up its decision-making process for the 2018 induction class.

Committee members have until April 15 to submit names of those who they think should be in the Hall of Fame. Those nominees will be debated and voted on during an Elections Meeting in June. The annual Hall of Fame induction occurs in November.

Individuals can weigh in on who they think should be nominated for the Hall in the Builders, Players and Referees/Linesmen categories through a process called public submissions.

The public submissions deadline is March 15. Here is a link on how the process works and you can make a submission.

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Maame Biney bounces back from Olympics showing to capture a gold medal in Poland


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2018 Winter Olympics Update – For those who are fretting over U.S. short track speedskater Maame Biney’s disappointing showing in PyeongChang, South Korea, you can stop now.

The 18-year-old phenom from suburban Washington, D.C., the first black woman to make the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating team, won a gold medal in the 500-meter sSaturday at the World Junior Short Track Championships in Tomaszow Mazowieckei, Poland.

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“This is a huge boost from the Olympics since I didn’t do as well as I wanted to,” Biney said. “This means that I’m really ready for the World Cup stage and can continue to get better.”

With a time of 44:305 seconds, the Ghanaian-born Biney became only the third U.S. woman to ever medal at a junior event. Her gold medal Saturday is the first junior gold medal for Team USA since J.R. Celski won the men’s 500m in 2009.

“It feels really good,” Biney said of Saturday’s victory. “I felt like I really deserved it today and I’m really happy. I just raced my race and made sure not to overestimate anyone.”

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Biney’s gold medal will go with a bronze medal that she won at the 2016-17 world junior championships.

She had a disappointing performance at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, finishing fourth in a four-person quarterfinal 500-meter heat with a time of 44.77 seconds.

Maame Biney, front row left, and members of the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating team in PyeongChang (Photo/US Speedskating).

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine,” a tearful Biney said at the time. “I just have to wait four more year to be able to get back into this big stage. I can’t wait till those four years.”

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Momentum builds for Willie O’Ree Hockey Hall of Fame induction as deadlines loom


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For those who want to see Willie O’Ree in the Hockey Hall of  Fame, it’s time to put our money where our mouths are.

The Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee – the gatekeepers who decide who’s in and who’s not – is ramping up its decision-making process for the Hall Class of 2018.

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

Selection Committee members have until April 15 to submit names of who they think are Hall-worthy. Those nominees are debated and voted on during an Elections Meeting in June. The annual Hall induction takes place in November.

While the Selection Committee has the most say in this process, there is an outlet for public input.

Its called the public submissions and it allows people to submit who they think are worthy of Hall entry in the Player, Referee/Linesman and Builder categories.

The deadline for public submissions is March 15, so time is of the essence. Here is a link to how the process works and how you can make a submission.

It doesn’t guarantee that O’Ree will be nominated, but it lets Selection Committee members know that there’s heavy of support to let the National Hockey League’s first black player into the the hockey shrine.

From hockey fans to players to hockey analysts, there are plenty of folks out there who want to see O’Ree in the Hall of Fame in the Builder’s category. has a petition calling for O’Ree’s Hall induction for his “significant contributions to the game as a pioneer of the sport.”

Thirteen members city government of Fredericton, New Brunswick – O’Ree’s home town in Canada – sent a letter to the Hockey Hall of Fame urging O’Ree’s induction. Fredericton Member of Parliament Matt DeCourcey added his voice with a floor speech last month in the House of Commons.

“A member of the New Brunswick Hall of Fame (and ) the Order of Canada, there remains but one honor to be bestowed this person who left such an indelible mark on this sport,” DeCourcey said.  “Mr. Speaker, for his dedication as a builder, I am sure Frederictonians, New Brunswickers, Canadians and hockey fans around the world share the view that it is past time that Willie O’Ree be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.”

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Karl Subban – the father of Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Malcolm Subban, and Los Angeles Kings defensive prospect Jordan Subban – is sending a submission letter through an O’Ree Hall induction effort launched by Fredericton residents.

“He changed the game and he changed society and he changed minds,” Karl Subban wrote. “He changed hockey, which is now for everyone. Hockey needed him and so does the Hockey Hall of Fame. The time is right.”

Damon Kwame Mason, director of the award-winning “Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future” black hockey history documentary, is also pushing for O’Ree’s induction.

So are several major hockey writers and analysts.

The criteria for entry in the Hall of Fame as a Builder is “Coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”

O’Ree fits this category because he has helped change the face of the game, not just by for becoming the first black man to play in the NHL when he took to the old Montreal Forum ice on Jan. 18, 1958 as a forward for the Boston Bruins – but he’s done since.

He has been an inspiration to a generation of young hockey players and fans of color. They look at this still-fit 82-year-old man, learn about the racial abuse he suffered in order to make it to the pros, and how he played in the NHL and minor leagues despite being blind in his right eye, and say “if he can do it, so can I.”

O’Ree has worked tirelessly as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador since 1998, crisscrossing the United States and Canada to visit youth hockey programs affiliated with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

His impact goes beyond getting more kids of color to lace on skates and grab sticks. O’Ree has also been a father figure, sounding board and role model for many of the minority players in the NHL today.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds recently said “Willie is not only a hero to me in hockey, but a hero in life.”

Pittsburgh Penguins tough guy forward Ryan Reaves vowed to have a big game  in honor of O’Ree, who was in the house last month for the Pens-Kings game at PPG Paints Arena.

Not known as a scorer, Reaves had a goal that night.

“Obviously with Willie O’Ree in the house it was pretty special,” Reaves told reporters. “He was a pioneer for players like me and it was nice to get him one.”

Reaves added: “That is somebody you look up to. He was big in the NHL, big in all sports for players like me.”

This years marks the 60th anniversary of Willie O’Ree making hockey history. Will the Hockey Hall of Fame make history this year and let Willie O’Ree in?

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From first place to last, black athletes were a presence at Winter Olympics


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PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – The most diverse Winter Olympics in history ended with black athletes on the medal stand and at the bottom of standings of their particular sport here in PyeongChang.

The cliche that “a picture is worth a thousand words” was apropos following the women’s two-person bobsled competition Wednesday night when four black women from three countries posed on the medal stand with Olympic gold, silver, and bronze around their necks.

The German team of pilot Mariama Jamanka, the daughter of a Gambian father, and brakeman Lisa Buckwitz won the gold medal; U.S. pilot Elana Meyers Taylor and brakeman Lauren Gibbs captured the silver medal; and the Canadian duo of  Kaillie Humphries and Phylicia George, who ran the 100-meter hurdles at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, captured the bronze.

Mariama Jamanka, right, and Lisa Buckwitz, won the gold medal in the women’s two-person bobsled event at the 2018 Winter Olympics (Photo/IBSF / Eugen Eslage).

The U.S. bobsled with pilot Elana Meyers Taylor, left, and brakeman Lauren Gibbs captured the silver medal (Photo/IBSF / Eugen Eslage).

Canada’s bobsled with brakewoman Phylicia George, right, and Kaillie Humphries took home a bronze medal (Photo/IBSF / Eugen Eslage)

Meyers Taylor, who won her third Olympic medal in two Winter Games, took note of the moment.

“It shows the growth of our sport. The more eyeballs there are on the sport, it will get more diverse,” said said. “I want to represent my color and ethnicity. To be proud of our heritage is really cool. I’m proud of changing the landscape in our sport.”

Much was made these games about the presence of the first women’s bobsled teams from Jamaica and Nigeria, along with the first-time skeleton athletes from those countries and Ghana.

Lamin Dean was one of six black bobsledders on Great Britain’s team.

They didn’t fare well in competition. The Jamaican team of pilot  Jazmine Fenlator- Victorian and brakeman Carrie Russell finished 18th in the two-person bobsled event and Nigerian pilot Andigun Seun and brakeman Ngozi Onwumere finished 19th.

Nigerian skeleton athlete Simidele Adeagbo finished 20th – last – in the women’s event. On the men’s side, Anthony Watson of Jamaica was 29th and Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong finished dead last in 30th place.

Jamaica and Nigeria being at the 2018 Winter Games generated a lot of press. But it also obscured the fact that even so-called traditional winter sports countries had a significant black presence on their teams.

The U.S. men’s hockey team failed to make it to the medal round and the Canadian women’s hockey team won a disappointing silver medal.

But U.S. forward Jordan Greenway, a Boston University junior forward and the first African-American to play for a U.S. Olympic hockey team, received good reviews for his play in PyeongChang. He scored a goal in five games.

Team Canada’s Sarah Nurse also had a goal in five Winter Olympic contests. The Hockey Hall of Fame requested and received the former University of Wisconsin forward’s white Team Canada jersey to put on display at the Toronto hockey museum.

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Half of Great Britain’s 12-person bobsled team in PyeongChang was black. France had two black brakemen –  Vincent Castell and Dorian Hauterville –  on its five-man bobsled team.

French figure skater Mae-Berenice Meite competed in her second Winter Games – 2014 in Sochi, Russia was her first – finishing 19th in the ladies’ single free skate program. Still, she dazzled the crowd in PyeongChang with a costume change in the middle of one of her routines.

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The parade of warm weather countries at the 2018 Winter Games included Sabrina Simader, a Kenyan Alpine skier who finished 38th in her event; Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean, a Togolese cross country skier who finished 83rd in the women’s 10-kilometer free ski competition.

Then there were the boys from Brazil -bobsledders Edson BindilatteEdson Ricardo Martins,Rafael da Silva Souza, and Ordilei Pessoni. They finished 27th in the four-man event.

All this infusion of color at Winter Games prompted the BBC to write a story asking if black athletes from African countries were competing for the love of the sport or for their 15 minutes of fame, noting that several of the athletes don’t live or weren’t born in the countries they represented here.

“Africans live elsewhere in the world, not only in Africa, and they have the right to represent their country even if they don’t live in their mother country,” said Pettjean, who was born in Togo but raised in the French Alps, where she learned to ski.

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Nigeria’s Seun, who lives in Houston, Texas, said participating in the Winter Olympics is all about growing her sport, not about seeking personal glory.

“We already have things in place now to get people interested in the process,” she said. “So we are excited to see how the sport of bobsled comes around in the continent of African.”

Germany’s Jamanka said she’s “proud that Africans start here for the African nations” but added that she won’t be switching over to the Gambian bobsled team, if they ever get one.

“I’m feeling German, and that’s why I will start for Germany for as long as possible,” she said.

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Griffin’s Korea ‘garbage goal’ Olympic puck enters Hockey Hall of Fame


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PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Randi Griffin still can’t believe that someone picked up her “garbage.”

That’s what she calls the goal she scored for the unified Korean women’s hockey team against Japan at the 2018 Winter Olympics. The shot was a weak wrister that bounced on the ice and managed to dribble five-hole past the Japanese goaltender.

Korean-American Randi Griffin scored Korea’s first-ever Olympic ice hockey goal.

“It was a pretty crappy shot that took a couple of bounces and happened to go into the net,” the forward said after the game. “I got lucky.”

But Griffin quickly learned that one person’s garbage goal is another person’s history. Her goal was the first-ever Korean tally in Winter Olympics history, and someone had the smarts to quickly retrieve the puck from the ice.

It’s now in Toronto getting prepped to be showcased at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I still can’t believe my name will appear in the Hockey Hall of Fame because of a garbage goal, but it’s pretty cool,” she told me. “I also still can’t believe I just played hockey in the Olympics, so I guess it’s the perfect crazy unexpected ending to a crazy unexpected experience.”

The puck that forward Randi Griffin shot into the net for Korea’s first-ever Olympic ice hockey goal (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Korea unified women’s Olympic hockey team forward Randi Griffin said her goal against Japan wasn’t much of a shot. The Hockey Hall of Fame disagrees (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Phil Pritchard,  the Hall’s curator, and keeper of the Stanley Cup, told me that the puck will be featured in the shrine’s World of Hockey display then take up permanent residence in the Olympic history display.

“Got the puck here…it is taped details of the goal etc. It’s not signed,” Pritchard told me in an email. “Once I get the artifacts back to the Hockey Hall of Fame, we will preserve, conserve and write up the proper paperwork and get captions made up.”

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Griffin, a North Carolinian and former Harvard University player, is still pinching herself.

“I was honestly really surprised,” she told me.

The daughter of a South Korean mother and white father, Griffin was initially recruited by the Korea Ice Hockey Association in 2014 via an email asking if she’d be interested in joining its Olympic effort.

Griffin, who hadn’t played serious hockey since her senior season at Harvard in 2009-10, thought the email was a hoax and didn’t respond for months.

Once she determined it was real, she flew to South Korea for a mini-camp then joined the country’s national women’s team that would play at the Winter Games in PyeongChang.

Her crazy journey got even crazier when it was announced that 12 players from North Korea’s women’s hockey team would be added to the South Korean roster, creating a unified team.

It was the first time that players from the North and South Korean athletes played together on a single in the Winter Olympics. Initially, there was concern about how the players would bond given the tense political relationship between the two countries.

But the players apparently managed to form some bonds, despite the North Korean skaters sleeping in separate quarters and riding separate buses from the South Korean teammates.

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Griffin, 29, recalled that she spotted some of the North Korean players getting McDonald’s Oreo McFlurries for breakfast in the dining hall at the Olympic Village.

“We all laughed about that and had McFlurries together for breakfast,” Griffin told reporters earlier this week.

The unified team struggled mightily on the ice, getting blown out by Switzerland and Sweden by 8-0 scores. They didn’t win any of its Olympic tournament games and they were outscored by opponents 2 goals to 20.

So when Griffin scored her seeing-eye goal, she knew it was Korea’s first Olympic goal, but she didn’t fully grasp what a big deal it was.

“I knew the goal would mean a lot to Korean supporters who wanted something to cheer for since we were losing games, and it certainly meant a lot to our team, but I didn’t thing anyone outside Korea would care.”

Griffin had designs for the puck – as a keepsake.

“I wanted the puck as a souvenir,” she said. “But obviously now that I know why they took it, I’m happy to let them have it.”

The Korean unified team member expects to have a reunion with the vulcanized rubber biscuit that made Olympic history when she returns to North America.

“I definitely will visit it!” Griffin said.

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Ex-Capitals Mike Marson and Bill Riley feel Smith-Pelly’s pain on racist taunts


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PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA Mike Marson can relate to what Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly endured when four Chicago Blackhawks “fans” racially taunted him as he sat in the press box at the United Center last Saturday.

Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals at age 18 in 1974.

“One can only imagine what it must have felt like when a certain 18 year old was all by himself against such bad form on and off the ice,” Marson told me.

Marson doesn’t have to imagine it. He lived it his rookie year with the expansion Capitals in 1974-75. He was the National Hockey League’s second black player, entering the league 16 years after Willie O’Ree broke in with the Boston Bruins.

Marson expressed disgust that black players are being targeted with racial slurs and disdain for the fans – and sometimes players – who utter them.

“It’s a shame that pro hockey in all its greatness still has these low points,” he told me.

Bill Riley echoed Marson’s sentiment. Riley, a forward, joined the Capitals shortly after Marson. They say misery loves company, but Riley said he wouldn’t wish the racial vitriol that he and Marson endured on anyone.

“They referred to Mike Marson and I as round ball players in Detroit in the mid seventies and wasn’t (just) the fans,” Riley told me. “Hard to believe that garbage still exists 40 plus years later.”

The “fans” who were removed and subsequently banned from Blackhawks home games showered Smith-Pelly with a chorus of “basketball, basketball, basketball,” a not-too-thinly veiled message that he should be a power forward in the National Basketball Association, not the NHL.

Bill Riley and Mike Marson were teammates on the Washington Capitals in the mid-1970s. They experienced the same racists taunts that Capitals forward Devente Smith-Pelly endured in Chicago. Photos/Washngton Capitals).

“It’s pretty obvious what that means,” Smith-Pelly said of the taunts. “Whether it’s that word or any other word, I got the idea. And I’m sure they got the idea, too. Just one word, and that’s really all it takes.”

Marson and Riley didn’t go public about what they went through when they were playing.

Neither wanted to be viewed as complainers or malcontents because they thought it would be a sure way to get a one-way ticket to the minor leagues and hockey obscurity.

So they suffered in silence. Riley praises Smith-Pelly and other black players in the NHL for stepping up and speaking out against racist behavior on the ice and in the stands.

“Kudos to Smith-Pelly,” Riley said.

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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, Jamal Mayers, 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. Mayers, a forward, added defensive toughness to that team for 19 regular season games that season.

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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