Tarasai Karega is a living hat trick – a black, female, ice hockey player.
The game courses through her veins, and has ever since she watched the 1992 Disney movie “The Mighty Ducks” as a child and became intrigued by one of the team’s players.
“Jesse (played by actor Brandon Adams) stood out to me because he was the only black kid on the team,” Karega recalled. “I told my mom I wanted to play hockey and she did some research on organizations in Detroit.”
A movie and a mother’s inquiries launched a unique and history-making hockey career that’s taken Karega from hometown Detroit to chilly Amherst, Mass., to the streets of Philadelphia.
Detroit’s Tarasai Karega shares her hockey knowledge with kids in Philadelphia.
Along the way, she’s gone from often being the lone brown-skinned girl on the ice to the producer of a small army of young minority hockey players – girls and boys.
Karega has grown from being a player with the individual talent to take over a game to a teacher with the ability to make others better by sharing the lessons she’s learned from hockey on and off the ice.
“I often heard – even from my own extended family – people saying ‘Black people don’t play hockey,’ or, “Girls don’t play hockey,'” she told Temple University’s News Center. “I walk into the rink with my equipment and people still look at me like I’m an alien. But I don’t do stereotypes. It fueled me more than it discouraged me.”
Since 2010, Karega has worked as coordinator for hockey operations for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, a program created by the founder of the Philadelphia Flyers that uses hockey as a tool to help educate young people and prepare them for adult life.
She’s a vital cog in a program that provides free hockey equipment, instruction and ice time to more than 3,000 kids in the Philadelphia area. The program, part of the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative, also blends in a rigorous off-ice life skills curriculum for kids and additional educational services to help them improve in school.
“Tarasai has been a terrific addition to our staff. We are very fortunate to have her,” Scott Tharp, Snider Hockey’s president, told me recently. “One of our long-term goals is to build a staff that is more closely reflective of the children, youth, families that we serve.”
“Today, 30 percent of our students are women and the number is growing everyday,” Tharp added. “Tarasai along with a very talented group of peer women coaches, are a big, big, part of this growth.”
Karega, the teacher, is also Karega, the student. She’s enrolled in the Master’s Degree program at Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. She’s studying sports business.
“I was talking to a family friend who knew the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes…,” she told Temple’s News Center. “One day he said to me, ‘You know, Tarasai, you could own a sports team.’ I laughed, and then I thought, ‘Hey, I could own a team.’ It got me interested in sport business and sport operations – not just the competitive aspect.”
Tiny but tough, Karega began playing hockey competitively at age nine. She started
Tarasai Karega was a standout player for Amherst College. (Photo/Amherst College)
with the Detroit Dragons of the Detroit Hockey Association, another “Hockey is for Everyone” organization.
She went on to play at the Cranbrook-Kingswood School in suburban Detroit. In
2005, she scored the game-tying goal and double-overtime-winning goal in the state championship tournament. She was named Michigan’s Ms. Hockey that year.
Karega’s hockey exploits in Michigan caught the attention of Amherst College in Massachusetts. She played for the NCAA Division III Lord Jeffs and was named first-team All New England Small College Athletic Conference as a sophomore.
Karega racked up 61 goals and 51 assists for 112 total points in 110 games during her collegiate career and maintained a 3.34 grade-point average.
In the 2008-09 season she made history by becoming one of the first black women to win an NCAA hockey title when the Jeffs captured college’s Division III crown.
While Karega says she has enjoyed her hockey journey, she’s not shy in talking about the challenges she faced being black and female in a sport that’s predominantly white.
“I can laugh about it now, because I’m an adult and I’ve learned to handle situations. But growing up, especially in Detroit, there were three other black girls on my team, and we would experience things,” Karega told NHL.com earlier this year. “People called us names. It was tough. And then I went to high school and college, I was the only one. It was just me by myself. People are kind of confused when they see someone like myself play hockey.”
But through her work at Snider Hockey, Karega knows that company is coming.