Alex Ovechkin, Bill Riley, Kryshanda Green, Mike Marson, Ryerson University, Washington Capitals, Willie O'Ree
When Ryerson University hockey forward Kryshanda Green had to choose what number to wear on her jersey this season, she quickly picked No.8 in honor of a certain Washington Capitals player.
While high-scoring Alex Ovechkin is currently Washington’s Great Eight, Green’s choice pays homage to a different No. 8 who she thinks is pretty great: her grandfather, Bill Riley.
Riley, who the number for the Capitals from 1976 to 1979, was the National Hockey League’s third black player. He followed in the skates of teammate Mike Marson and Willie O’Ree, who became the league’s first black player when he joined the Boston Bruins in 1958.
“My grandfather is like a a huge influence on me, he’s very inspiring,” Green told me recently. “I know he dealt with a lot of adversity. His situation is something that I can be proud of for the rest of my life.”
Green took Riley’s number as a personal reminder of the obstacles that he had to overcome and the perseverance he displayed in not letting anyone – including some racist fans and fellow players – or anything prevent him from achieving his goals.
“It was more when I was in the minor leagues – I went through a lot in the minors,” Riley, who grew up in Nova Scotia, told me recently. “I got called names down in the U.S., I didn’t even know what they meant. I had to ask another black guy. They used to call me ‘chitlin.‘ I didn’t know what a chitlin was. We don’t have chitlins up in Canada, we don’t eat chitlins in Canada.”
Riley appeared in 139 NHL games over five seasons with the Capitals and Winnipeg Jets, notching 31 goals and 30 assists.
Green says she’s taking lessons from Riley’s perseverance and using it to revive a promising hockey career that hit a big red stop sign three seasons ago.
Green began her Canadian collegiate hockey career at London, Ontario’s Western University in 2012-13. She tallied 9 goals and 13 assists for the Mustangs and earned Ontario University Athletics’ All-Rookie Team honors that season.
But success on ice didn’t translate to success in the classroom. Hitting the books wasn’t her top priority.
“I wasn’t ready academically,” she said. “I wasn’t willing to do the work. I wasn’t willing to study or put dedication toward academics. I was certainly willing to play hockey. I did that day in and day out, anytime I could. I loved it. But academically, I hadn’t matured in the same way, and that was my downfall.”
Frustrated, Green left Western and quit hockey altogether – moves that broke her grandfather’s heart.
“It really disappointed me because I knew how good she was,” said Riley, 66. “She has a gear that a lot of players will never get, no matter how hard they work. She is so explosive to the outside, she’s unbelievable. And she shoots the puck a ton – she fires bullets for a girl that small. She was too darn good not to play.”
“To be honest, I think my grandfather was the most upset,” Green recalled. “He was like ‘What are you doing? How can you stop playing? You’ve got to get through this.'”
But Green said was stubbornly determined not to return to the rink. She filled the hockey void by getting in touch with her artistic side.
She collaborated with Toronto-area hip-hop artists and even released her own EP and video as the artist known as Krash.
But even as she busted rhymes, hockey remained on her mind.
“It was something that I knew I wasn’t done with, that I finished too early,” Green told me. “It was something that I was tired of keeping me up at night.”
While performing music was fun, working regular jobs in Toronto area warehouses and for a film services company from 2013 to 2015 were hardly inspiring, Green confessed.
Fortunately, a life-line came in the form of a phone call from Lisa Haley, Ryerson’s women’s hockey head coach and former assistant coach on the Canadian women’s national team that won gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Haley wanted to know if Green was interested in playing hockey again. Krash dropped the mic and grabbed a stick.
“I thought I wasn’t going to get another chance to finish what I started after all these years, so I took it because I thought that getting an education was the most valuable thing for me to get right now,” Green said.
Green was red-shirted at Ryerson last season, meaning she didn’t appear in single game for the Rams. That gave her time to focus on academics, which resulted in a 3.5 grade-point average last year, she said.
“This year, I’m currently a 3.0. After exams, hopefully, it will be higher,” Green, a politics and governance major, told me. “It’s the most important part.”
Her on-ice stats are pretty good, too. The 5-foot-4 forward from Brampton, Ontario, leads the Rams in scoring with 8 goals and 7 assists for 15 points in 12 games. She’s fourth in the OUA in points; fourth in goals; and eighth in assists.
She’s tenth in goals and thirteenth in points in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, the country’s version of the NCAA.
“It’s been amazing,” Green said of her success after the long hockey layoff. “I have a greater appreciation for the game that I never thought I’d have. It feels like home again…It’s honestly such a privilege for me to get on the ice. For me, just being able to step on the ice and play a game is huge.”
Green’s work ethic and dedication earned her an assistant captain’s “A” on her jersey this season, a symbol that she’s a team leader.
“She is highly skilled, she’s got blazing speed on the ice, but the bigger impact of ‘Krash’s’ legacy on our program has been her leadership,” Haley said. “She is the picture of accountability, integrity and perseverance. These are key qualities that every successful team embodies and she brought these to the rink every single day last year, knowing she wouldn’t even play a game the entire season.”
Just what proud grandpa Bill Riley likes to hear.
“She’s blowing the doors off her grades,” he said of his granddaughter. “And she’s blowing the doors off the hockey.”