When Saint Mary’s University Huskies hockey Head Coach Bob Boucher called out their names, players Bob Dawson, Percy Paris, and Darrell Maxwell didn’t realize at the time that they were about to jump over the boards and into hockey history.
It was February 1970, as Dawson recalls, in a game against the Mount Allison University Mounties. Boucher did something that no one in Canadian university hockey had done before or since – put an all-black forward line on the ice.
“The first time Bob Boucher did it, I don’t think people gave it too much thought. I don’t think we, as players, gave it a whole lot of thought right away but I think the coach knew exactly what he was doing,” Percy Paris, a former Nova Scotia cabinet minister, told me recently. “Three Nova Scotia-born players of African descent that were good hockey players – I guess he wanted to make a statement. Obviously there weren’t many persons of African-descent playing hockey, period. He wanted people to stand up and take notice and say ‘Here are three good hockey players and there should be more of them. Let’s make room for them.'”
The three line mates shared their under-told story with Rogers Sportsnet over the weekend in an excellent piece by producer Jason Robert Thom that aired as part of the network’s “Hockey Day in Canada” coverage.
If Boucher was trying to make a statement, he never told anyone, even the players involved in the history-making move.
“We were a wee bit confused because Bob was a defenseman,” said Paris, whose brother, John Paris, Jr., became the first black head coach to win a professional hockey championship when he guided the old International Hockey League Atlanta Knights to a title in 1994. “He (Boucher) didn’t come to the three of us and say ‘Percy, you take center, Darrell, you’re going to take the right side.’ He just tapped the three of us on the shoulder and said ‘Get out there.’ And over the boards we went and we figured it out once we got out there.”
Dawson, 68, said “it was only later, reflecting back on it, that we realized the significance of it.”
“Having shared in that was kind of special,” Dawson said. “It brought back memories of the Black Aces of Herb Carnegie, Ossie, and Manny McIntyre.”
The high-scoring Black Aces line played for the Sherbrooke Saints of the Quebec Provincial Hockey League and for other teams in Canada and Europe in the 1940s. Herb Carnegie, regarded as one of the best hockey players never to reach the National Hockey League, centered the all-black line with older brother Ossie Carnegie on one wing and rugged Manny McIntyre on the other.
Like the Black Aces, Dawson, Maxwell and Paris felt the sting of racism while trying to play the game they loved.
“It wasn’t until I played university hockey in ’67 with Saint Mary’s that I experienced it,” Dawson said. “In 67-68 when I went to places like Prince Edward Island where we’d play the University of Prince Edward Island. During the warm-ups you’d have fans call out names like ‘nigger,’ and ‘snowball,’ and ‘coon.’ During the game, there were one or two opposing players who would echo the same kind of slurs.They’d try to take certain liberties with you in terms of cheap shots – spearing and whacking you behind the legs, and slew-footing you.”
But the insults and indignities didn’t deter the three players or the team. The Huskies played in Canadian college hockey national championship games in four consecutive seasons to 1973.
The players credit the team’s success to Boucher, who compiled a record of 231 wins, 33 losses and four ties in 13 seasons at Saint Mary’s.
“Our coach was a bit ahead of his time,” said Maxwell, 68, who worked for the Canadian government in its human resources and revenue divisions. “He had been over to Russia and studied their system prior to a lot of people in North America paying a lot of attention to the Russians. We had some unique preparations before and during games, and our practices, that he learned from going over to Europe and Russia.”
Boucher left Saint Mary’s in 1982 to become an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers for two seasons under Head Coach Pat Quinn. He took over a Flyers power play that ranked last in the NHL in 1981 and improved it to the league’s best PP the next season. Boucher died in December 2004 after a short battle with lung cancer.
“He was a no-nonsense coach,” said Dawson, a retired Canadian government human resources employee. “In terms of the technical aspects of the game, he was well-versed. And he was fair. He was the best coach I ever had.”
Dawson, Maxwell, and Paris plan to go back to Saint Mary’s campus in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August to reminisce about their coach and exchange stories about the good times and bad they experienced over their collegiate hockey careers.
They also plan to do something that they never did during their playing days: take a photo together wearing Saint Mary’s hockey jerseys.
Dawson and Maxwell are in the Huskies’ 1970 team picture but Paris didn’t make the photo session because he was recovering from injuries suffered in a serious car accident.
“Even though we’re showing more gray now than we did then at least we can say we finally have a picture together in a Saint Mary’s uniform,” Maxwell said.
A special Color of Hockey thanks to the good people at Rogers Sportsnet for providing video of their “Hockey Day in Canada” piece on Dawson, Maxwell and Paris.