Karl Subban thought he was done.
The proud papa of three black professional hockey players thought he was finished writing his first book, “How We Did It, The Subban Family Plan For Success In Hockey, School And Life.”
Then The Trade happened.
The move shocked the hockey world, helped guide the Predators to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance, and sent Karl Subban scrambling to his computer to write another chapter for his book.
“Yeah, I had to write it,” Karl told me. “It was unbelievable. It was an unbelievable run to the Stanley Cup Final. I’ve never been through that before. It took me a long time to believe that we were there.”
The elder Subban talks about his book, The Trade, the Predators’ Stanley Cup run, racism, and what it’s like raising three very talented hockey players in the first episode of the Color of Hockey podcast.
Our new podcast, like this blog, will tell the story of the history and growing impact of people of color in ice hockey at all levels and all aspects of the game – on the ice, off the ice, behind the bench, in the broadcast booth, and in the front office, wherever.
And what better lead-off guest than Karl, father of Pernell Karl (P.K.); Malcolm, a goaltender and Boston Bruins 2012 first round draft pick who was waived by the B’s this week and claimed by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights; and Jordan, a 2013 Vancouver Canucks fourth-round draft pick who’s a defenseman for the Utica Comets, the Canucks’ American Hockey League franchise in Upstate New York.
P.K. tallied 10 goals and 30 assists in 66 games in his first season in Nashville. He had 2 goals and 10 assists in 22 playoff games.
Malcolm compiled an 11-14-5 record in 32 games for the Providence Bruins and posted a 2.41 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He was winless in the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
Jordan notched 16 goals and 20 assists in 65 regular season games last season for Utica. He had 2 goals and an assist in four AHL playoff contests.
True to its title, “How We Did It” gives insight to how Karl and Maria Subban guided their boys through various levels of hockey – from lacing on their first pair of skates skates to hearing their names called at National Hockey League drafts.
“The African proverb, I use it in the book, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,'” Karl told me. “It also takes a village to raise an NHLer…to grow their potential. Maria and I can’t stand there and say ‘Look at us, we did it all by ourselves.'”
But the book is also deals with immigration – Karl’s family moved to Canada from Jamaica and Maria’s from Montserrat – education, and the ugly realities of racism, an issue that P.K. first confronted when he was an 8 year old playing minor hockey in Toronto.
It’s a lesson that Karl, a semi-retired Toronto public school principal, was sadden that his son learned so early.
“He came out of the dressing room crying. He said a boy on the ice called him the N-word,” Karl writes in the book. “We said there was no need to cry because it was only a word. We probably said something about ‘sticks and stones.’ There weren’t too many kids playing who looked like P.K., but now someone had communicated it to him in a way he didn’t like.”
He’s endured racist taunts and attitudes as a pro, most notably during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when so-called Bruins unleashed a torrent of hateful emails and social media posts after he scored two goals, including the double-overtime winner.Embed from Getty Images
When confronted with racist ugliness, Karl says P.K. follows a bit of advice that he gave him: Don’t let them win.
“I’ve told P.K. it’s vital to change the channel, because if you ruminate over it, you can’t free yourself from it,” the elder Subban writes. “It does take practice, though – and P.K. has had a lot of practice.”
Karl had to change the channel when the Canadiens traded P.K.. Montreal was Karl’s team ever since he was a boy growing up in Sudbury, Ontario, watching the Canadiens’ French broadcast on TV, and dreaming of being Habs goaltender Ken Dryden.
As an adult, he thought there was nothing like seeing a game in hockey-mad Montreal. Then came Nashville.
“I didn’t think there was anything better until I got to Nashville, and then I said ‘Wow!'” he told me. “It’s so different and a great experience. It’s the music there, the environment. After the game, the honky tonks, the bars, the food, I love country music. And then we went on that (Stanley Cup) run, and the city, which is alive anyway 24/7, it was taken to another level.”
But Karl still can’t quite get used to what’s becoming a tradition in Nashville: fans tossing catfish onto the Bridgestone Arena ice.
“I just want to eat those catfish,” he told me. “There’s a restaurant where I go, they have this catfish thing and I love it. Like, I’m saying ‘please don’t throw them on the ice. Can you just give them to that restaurant I go to and have them prepare it the way they prepare it there.”
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. Download the Color of Hockey podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
“Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future,” the award-winning black hockey history documentary, is heading to London in October as part of the United Kingdom’s Black History Month celebration.
Canadian filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason’s hockey labor of love is scheduled to be screened at London’s Picturehouse Central on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 10:30 a.m., and Sunday, Oct. 22, at 9 p.m. The screenings will be followed by question and answer sessions with Mason.
As part of the Ourscreen program, advance tickets are sold for the two events. Tickets can be purchased online through the Ourscreen website linked here.
“Soul on Ice Past, Present and Future” chronicles the joy and the pain experienced by black players, from members of the ground-breaking Colored Hockey League in the Canadian Maritimes from 1895 to 1925 to the stars skating on National Hockey League’s 31 teams.
Some familiar faces – past and present – share their hockey stories: Philadelphia Flyers All-Star forward Wayne Simmonds, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Trevor Daley, San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward, Edmonton Oilers goaltending great Grant Fuhr, Buffalo Sabres/Quebec Nordiques/New York Rangers sniper Tony McKegney, and former Sabres/Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Val James, the NHL’s first black player born in the United States.
Mason devoted nearly four years and spent about $200,000 of mostly his own money to make the film. It won a People’s Choice Award at the Edmonton International Film Festival in October 2015.
The NHL was so impressed by “Soul on Ice’s” educational and uplifting message that it hosted the film’s U.S. premiere in Washington in January 2016 and aired it on the NHL Network in February 2016 to commemorate U.S. Black History Month.
“It’s about doing some myth-breaking. You look at other sports where black athletes are underrepresented, and it’s a struggle to try to encourage young black people to get into them,” Dacres told me recently. “The parents will say ‘Why are you bothering the kids.’ And the kid’s mates will say ‘Hockey’s not the sport for you, black guys don’t skate.’ It’s about showing that we have some pioneers and some very strong role models that actually give people and young children something to work toward and aspire to.”
The movie is also deeply personal for Dacres, who endured racial slurs in his younger days when he played with the Bradford Bulldogs.
“They just kind of said ‘Just get on with it, mate, just play the game and get on with it,'” Dacres recalled the reaction to the slurs. “Today, we don’t need to do that. We can challenge that poor negative behavior but we can do that by showing some positive role models.”
Although there are few hockey players of color in the United Kingdom, they have made their presence felt.
Hilton Ruggles, a Montreal-born left wing, tallied 1,096 goals, 929 assists and 2,200 penalty minutes in 946 games in the British Hockey League, British Ice Hockey Superleague, and the United Kingdom’s Elite Ice Hockey League. Ruggles was inducted into the UK Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
He’s one of the United Kingdom’s most-decorated players, having won an EIHL championship, an International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Gold Medal in Division D1B in 2016-17, and scoring more goals than any other British-born player in the EIHL in 2006-07, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14.
Clarke, a member of Great Britain’s national team, has notched 289 goals and 238 assists in 553 EIHL games.
And several talented black NHL players have found their way across the pond to play. Rumun Ndur, a Nigerian-born defenseman, played for the Sabres and Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) before skating for the EIHL’s Coventry Blaze and Clarke’s Panthers in Nottingham.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs right wing John Craighead , an American, played for the Panthers from 2003 to 2005. Anthony Stewart, a Canadian right wing who played for the Thrashers, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, suited up for the Panthers in 2012-13 during the NHL’s player lockout that season.
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey.
Let us turn to the hockey sage Kool Moe Dee for the right words while discussing Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Habs’ first-round exit from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A song by Dee – or is it Mr. Moe Dee? – probably best sums up how Subban must have felt after watching the Canadiens – his former employer – burp up a two-game-to-one series lead and suffer a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers Saturday that ousted the Habs from the playoffs:
Last summer, Subban was the poster boy for Montreal’s dysfunction – the Habs’ failure to make the playoffs (seeming to forget that All-World goaltender Carey Price only appeared in 12 games in 2015-16 season due to injury), rumored unrest in the locker room, and the inability of the coach to execute his master plan to lead the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup.
So how’d it work out? The Habs fired Therrien in February after the team faded following a 13-1-1 start to the 2016-17 season. Montreal finished atop the National Hockey League’s Atlantic Conference with a 47-26-9 record and Cup expectations were high, particularly after the trade and Therrien’s dismissal. Then came the Rangers.Embed from Getty Images
As for the trade participants, Weber had a good year in Montreal, scoring 17 goals and 25 assists in 78 games. Subban had an injury-plagued regular season that limited him to 10 goals and 30 assists in 66 games. Subban played 12 fewer games than Weber but scored 40 points to Weber’s 42.
But the bottom line stat for most fans is that Subban and the Predators are still in the playoffs. Weber and the Canadiens aren’t after making what was sold as a “win now” trade.
While Montreal players head to the golf course, Subban and the Predators face the St. Louis Blues in Round Two of the playoffs.
Nashville’s four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks was so defensively dominant that Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne tallied as many points – 2 – as All-Star snipers Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews , who were the Chicago’s top scorers in the series.
Revenge is as sweet as the ice tea served cold south of the Mason-Dixon line, and Subban fans are basking in Montreal’s playoff misfortune. Cue Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.”
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey
They hail from different places and backgrounds. They’re of different races, ethnic groups, and faiths. But put a stick in their hands and skates on their feet, they’re all the same: hockey players.
It’s fun writing about the history and growing impact of people of color in hockey, but frustrating at the same time. A lot of people still don’t realize how diverse the sport is becoming, how the face of hockey is changing.
Seeing is believing, so here are some of the players of color who were on the rosters of National Hockey League teams when the 2016-17 season opened last week. If you have any questions about the players, take a deeper dive into this blog for some of their stories.
Canada’s Sportsnet spent some quality time this week talking with defenseman P.K. Subban, who was surprisingly traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Nashville Predators last month.
Subban gave the sports network his first extensive comments about the trade, and addresses some of the questions and rumors swirling about why he was abruptly dealt. Give the two-part interview a look.
Two summers ago, the Montreal Canadiens showed defenseman P.K. Subban the money, signing him to an eight-year $72 million deal. Wednesday, the Habs showed him the door.
Damn, what happened?
Either the Canadiens front office lost its mind or lost its patience and dealt fan-favorite Subban, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner as the National Hockey League’s best defenseman, straight-up for All-Star D-man Shea Weber.
Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin maintained that the swap of the 27-year-old Subban for the 30-year-old Weber will help the Canadiens move from a non-playoff-appearing 38-38-6 team to an eventual Stanley Cup contender.
“We completed today an important transaction which I am convinced will make the Canadiens a better team,” the general manager said.”In Shea Weber, we get a top rated NHL defenseman with tremendous leadership, and a player who will improve our defensive group as well as our power play for many years to come. Shea Weber led all NHL defensemen last season with 14 power play goals. He is a complete rearguard with impressive size and a powerful shot. P.K. Subban is a special and very talented player. He provided the Canadiens organization with strong performances on the ice and generous commitment in the community. I wish him the best of luck with the Predators.”
Hmmm, so much to decode here. But you don’t need to
In praising Weber, Bergevin took not-so-veiled digs at Subban’s leadership qualities,
his ability to play well with others, and his overall game on the blue line.
It’s no secret that Subban’s flamboyant, high-risk playing style drove Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien nuts at times. And there were rumblings of discontent among some Habs players with Subban this season.
And, of course, the trade is the latest chapter in the Great P.K. Subban Debate. Several members of the hockey establishment argue that his game is more style than substance and some old school hockey heads complain that he’s too colorful a personality.
Subban supporters say his swashbuckling playing style and larger-than-life personality have been good for the game. They argue that he’s been disrespected by the hockey intelligentsia for not fitting the cookie-cutter mold of what an NHLer should be. Some question whether race is a factor.
Subban’s been on the receiving end of several high-profile snubs. Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock, when he coached the Gold Medal-winning Canadian men’s hockey team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, played Subban for only 11 minutes – all in one game.
Subban’s Canadiens teammates passed him over last season to be the team’s nominee for the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy – presented to the player who exhibits leadership on and off the ice and has contributed to the community – despite the fact that he pledged $10 million to Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, the biggest philanthropic commitment by any athlete in Canadian history.
Subban seemed to take Wednesday’s trade in the same fluid stride he’s taken the previous slights. He told Nashville reporters via conference call Wednesday that “Right now, I’m going to a team that wants me” He added that he felt “a whole lot closer” to winning a Stanley Cup with Nashville than he did in Montreal.
“On the business side of things, the Montreal Canadiens paid me a lot of money two years ago to do what I do for a living,” he said. “At the end of the day I just wanted to come in and do my job. But obviously right now I’m going to a team that wants me and the Montreal Canadiens felt that they had to take it down a different path.”
Some key 2015-16 statistics don’t show much space between Weber and Subban. Weber was ninth among NHL defensemen in scoring with 20 goals and 31 assists for 51 points in 78 games. He was third on the Predators in scoring.
Subban was 12th among the league’s defensemen, matching Weber’s 51 points on 6 goals and 45 assists in an injury-plagued 68 games. He was Montreal’s fourth-leading scorer last season.Embed from Getty Images
Weber, touted as the more defensively responsible blue liner, had a plus-minus rating of minus-7. Subban was a plus-4.
Weber averaged 25:12 minutes per game and 29.9 shifts per game. Subban logged an average of 26:21 minutes per game and 28.3 shifts per game.
Weber was the more effective power play scorer – Bergevin’s main point – with 14 goals compared to Subban’s 2 in 2015-16. Neither player had a game-winning goal last season.
Subban and Weber have one other thing in common. Neither has been able in recent seasons to get their teams over the hump to the Stanley Cup Final.
Needless to say, the trade hasn’t gone down well with hockey fans in and out of Montreal. A New York Post headline read “P.K. Subban Trade is Canadiens Purging NHL’s Biggest Persona.”
The Montreal Gazette quotes fans calling the trade “Ridiculous,” “insane,” “a disgrace.” Welcome to Montreal, Shea Weber.
With Subban in the fold, the Predators are taking a different approach that the team hopes will lead to a Stanley Cup. Nashville historically was a defense-first team under Head Coach Barry Trotz.
Trotz was replaced two seasons ago by Peter Laviolette, who likes his defenseman to be able to move the puck quickly out of their zone and initiate offense – either through pinpoint passes or skating.
Though Laviolette is a no-nonsense coach in the Therrien mold, Subban should thrive in Laviolette’s system.
“In P.K., when people might talk about him, it’ll be his skating, the fact that he can transport the puck himself, the fact that he can distribute the puck, he’s constantly in motion,” Laviolette said. “He has worn a letter in the National Hockey League, was being considered for captain of the Montreal Canadiens, so there’s leadership quality there as well.”
In addition to his skating ability and 100-mph-plus slap shot from the point, Subban brings something to the Predators that the franchise has never had – star power, someone who can put butts in seats.
Though Subban was enormously popular among fans in Montreal he was never the face of the franchise, not with all-world goaltender Carey Price and U.S.-born team captain Max Pacioretty there.
He’s poised to be The Man in Nashville.
“P.K. Subban is an elite offensive defenseman with tremendous skill and contagious energy that makes the Nashville Predators a better team now and into the future,” said Nashville GM David Poile. “Superstar defensemen of his caliber are a rare commodity, and we are thrilled to add him to the organization.”
Teams participating in the World Cup of Hockey finalized their rosters Friday, providing plenty of news about who’s in and who’s out of the eight-team tournament.
Three black players will represent their countries in the games to be played Sept. 17-Oct. 1 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto is also the home town of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. But Subban, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner as the National Hockey League’s best defenseman, won’t be there because Team Canada didn’t add him to its roster.
“The decisions weren’t easy, and with the depth of player talent we have in Canada, we knew it would be a difficult process to finalize our roster – but it’s what we signed up for, and we feel we’ve been able to put together the right balance to create a winning team,” Team Canada General Manager Doug Armstrong said.
Canada selected seven blue-liners: Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks; Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin of the Los Angeles Kings; Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks; Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues; and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators.
Subban was 12th among NHL defensemen in scoring in the 2015-16 regular season with 6 goals and 45 assists in 68 games. Weber finished ninth among D-men with 20 goals and 31 assists and Doughty was tenth with 14 goals and 37 assists.
An article in Canada’s National Post Saturday had a lead that summed up the Subban skip best: “Call him P.K. Snubban.”
“OK, so the nickname needs a little work but that doesn’t excuse the fact the reimagined World Cup of Hockey will be devoid of one of its marquee talents: The marvelous P.K. Subban,” John Matisz wrote.
Subban’s talent is undeniable. Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley, appearing in filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason’s “Soul on Ice, Past, Present and Future” black hockey history documentary, said Subban should simply be known as “Norris” – as in Norris Trophy.Embed from Getty Images
Subban represented Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, but Team Canada Head Coach Mike Babcock made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of Subban’s game. He played only 11 minutes – all in one game – during the entire Olympics.
Many Subban fans feel he’s disrespected by the Canadian hockey establishment – be it the Canadiens, Hockey Canada, or old-school hockey heads who think he’s too mouthy, too flashy, too…whatever.
After Montreal endured the hockey season from hell – a 38-38-6 record, no playoff berth – the Canadian rapper Wasiu had had enough with the Subban bashing.
Earlier this month, Wasiu picked up the mic and dropped “P.K. Subban,” a sometimes-explicit tribute to the player he says is “putting the city on his back.”
“The Canadiens had a bad season and the local media pointed the finger at P.K.,” Wasiu wrote in an essay for Fader. “It’s funny though, because he’s the best player and we all know he isn’t the problem. Same way when there’s violence that occurs at a club or in general, the thinking is to go check on the black people first because they look like they ‘fit the description’ – even if they weren’t the ones to start any problems.”
Wasiu’s is the second rap homage to Subban and his skills. Toronto-based rapper/producer Saukrates contributed “Say I” in 2011 as part of a Nike ad campaign that featured Subban.
If P.K. was P.O.’d about being excluded from the World Cup of Hockey, he didn’t show it over the weekend. Hanging out with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre Saturday, Subban told Canada’s Sportsnet “I just want to see Canada win gold. So, I’ll be there cheering just like everybody else.”
“It’s a selection process,” he added. “So either you get selected, or you don’t . All I can do is be a model citizen. I’m Canadian so I support my country and I support my team just like everybody else.”
Another notable World Cup omission is Dallas Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya from Team Sweden’s roster.
Oduya, who won Stanley Cups with Chicago in 2013 and 2015, represented his country at the 2014 and 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship.
Despite no Oduya and no Subban, there will still be players of color to watch at the World Cup tournament.Embed from Getty Images
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien will skate for Team USA. The Minneapolis-born big man – 6-foot-5, 260-pounds – with the booming slap shot finished third on the Jets in scoring in 2015-16 with 19 goals and 34 assists in 81 games.Embed from Getty Images
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones made the World Cup’s Team North America roster. The Texas-born Jones tallied 2 goals and 18 assists in 41 games for Columbus after being acquired from the Predators.Embed from Getty Images
Team Europe added Philadelphia Flyers left wing Pierre-Edourard Bellemare to its roster Friday. Bellemare, who is from France, had 7 goals and 7 assists in 74 games for the Flyers.
When the Washington Capitals face the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center on Fan Appreciation Night Saturday, perhaps no one in the arena will be more appreciative than Mike Marson.
The Capitals are scheduled to honor Marson, who was the National Hockey League’s second black player, with a video salute on the Verizon Center’s giant scoreboard during a TV timeout.
“I’m very pleased that the Capitals made a move to invite me to come down,” Marson, a Toronto resident, told me recently. “It’s an honor and a pleasure.”
Marson and his Capitals teammates endured the indignity of an 8-67-5 record in the team’s inaugural 1974-75 season, one of the worst records in NHL history.
But Marson also endured the indignities of racism – on and off the ice. Taunts and physical liberties by opposing players on the ice and racist letters delivered to his home and to the Capital Centre, the team’s original suburban Maryland home, were the unsettling norm.
“It was a culture shock,” Marson recalled.”Nobody should have to make a comment that you’re with the team to get on the plane; nobody should have to, when you get to the hotel, hear the staff ask the coach ‘is that gentleman with you?’ Or hear ‘we don’t have people like him stay at our hotel;’ and nobody should then have to go down in the morning for breakfast and have people usher by you non-stop because they won’t feed you. This is before you even get to the rink, before you have to deal with your opposition. It was non-stop.”
Marson’s story is chronicled in filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason’s black hockey history documentary, “Soul on Ice, Past, Present & Future,” which aired on NHL Network in February as part of Black History Month.
His professional hockey career was brief – five seasons with the Capitals and three games with the Los Angeles Kings combined with stints with the American Hockey League’s Baltimore Clippers, Springfield Indians, Binghamton Dusters and Hershey Bears.
The left wing tallied only 24 goals 24 assists in 196 NHL regular season games and never appeared in a Stanley Cup playoff game.
Still, Marson left an imprint on the game. It’s evident in Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and New York Rangers forward Rick Nash, who, as youngsters climbing the hockey ladder, trained off-ice under Marson during his post-hockey career as a martial arts instructor.
“The main thing about Mike was he taught P.K. how to be mentally strong,” Karl Subban, P.K.’s father, told me recently. “If you look at P.K. today, that’s one of the traits he has as a hockey player. It doesn’t matter what’s happening off the ice, it doesn’t matter what’s written about him or what’s said about him. He’s going to go out and play. And I’ve got to give Mike Marson credit for that.”
The elder Subban also credits Marson for igniting his love for hockey – a passion that he passed onto P.K., middle son Malcolm, a goaltender for the AHL Providence Bruins, and youngest son Jordan, a defenseman for the AHL’s Utica Comets.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Karl Subban grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, where Marson played major junior hockey for the Sudbury Wolves, then of the Ontario Hockey Association.
Marson was the Man in Sudbury: a black skating, scoring, and fighting machine who wore the captain’s “C” on his jersey. He exuded unabashed blackness – sporting an Afro, Fu Manchu mustache and mutton chop sideburns.
“Mike Marson gave my community a reason to watch hockey,” Karl Subban told me. “I loved the Sudbury Wolves.But when Mike came onto the scene I took it to another level. They were not just the Sudbury Wolves, they were my team because they had a player who looked like me.”
Between 1972 and 1974 Marson tallied 40 goals, 87 assists and amassed a whopping 263 penalty minutes in 126 regular season games for the Wolves. His hockey resume was strong enough that the expansion Capitals grabbed him with the first pick in the second round of the 1974 NHL Draft.
“I was pretty quick,” said Marson, who works as a bus driver in Toronto.”Having attended so many training camps where I was the only person of color, I had to be able to handle myself. I liked to score, I wasn’t afraid of the rough stuff.”
He was chosen ahead of Hockey Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier, a center who scored 1,425 career points mainly for the New York Islanders, and Mark Howe, who tallied 742 career points as a defenseman playing primarily with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Capitals believed they had a solid pick, so did other hockey people. Plus, it didn’t hurt to have a black player as a potential gate attraction in a new hockey city with a sizable black population.
Marson graced the cover of The Hockey News in October 1974. When he made his regular season debut with the Caps at age 19, he became the NHL’s second black player, the first since forward Willie O’Ree played his last game for the Boston Bruins in the 1960-61 season. O’Ree first joined the Bruins in the 1957-58 season.
Marson showed promise in an otherwise dismal inaugural season for the Capitals. The rookie finished third on the team in scoring with 16 and 12 assists in 76 games.
“He was a great talent – a great skater, great puck skills, tough as they come. He was the complete package,” said right wing Bill Riley, who became the NHL’s third black player when he joined the Capitals for one game in 1974-75 and went on to become a sometimes line mate of Marson’s from 1976 to 1979. “He was strong. I only came across two guys with that kind of strength: Stan Jonathan and Mike Marson. When Mike hit you, you knew you got hit.”
Still, Riley, who went on to become Junior A hockey general manger and a head coach of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats in 1996-97, said “I was looking for bigger and better things for Mike.”
So was Marson. But being drafted at 18, becoming a $500,000 bonus baby, and going straight to the NHL without a proper apprenticeship in the minor leagues might have been too much too soon, he said.
And the culture shock of moving from Canada – where he considered himself a hockey player first – to an NHL city south of the U.S. Mason-Dixon line in the racially-tumultuous 1970s also took its toll.
“You can’t really compare my situation back in 1974 to today’s way of thinking,” he told me. “There’s no way to measure that by today’s uplifted society.”
But Marson says he doesn’t dwell on the painful past. Age brings perspective. And healing.
“You don’t get to be 60 and not have some regrets in your life – decisions you made here and there,” he told me. “You react differently than you did at 19 or 16. For me, it’s interesting to have put away all the negative things that transpired so many years ago – we’re talking over 40 years ago – when the world was a totally different place.”
It’s as much a part of hockey as sticks, pucks, and goalie pads. We marvel at Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr’s business-in-the-front-party-in the back mullet, a style so timeless, so awesome, so hockey, that Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban paid homage to it at the NHL All-Star Weekend in January.
New York Rangers forward Ron Duguay was all about Sassoon jeans, Studio 54, and curly locks in the disco days of the 1970s. And those of us of a certain age can recall catcalling St. Louis Blues sniper Garry Unger as his long red mane flew when he skated up ice in the early 1970s.
Hair is so synonymous with hockey that there’s a term for it: Flow. Hockey players are perfectionists, dedicating countless hours making sure that a move, a shot, a save is just right. They’re apparently just as fussy about their flow.
So much so that an enterprising anonymous filmmaker has been producing High School All Hockey Hair Team videos since 2011.
The 2015 YouTube video went viral with more than 2.5 million views. And this year’s
edition is quickly racking up the clicks and views. Flow is such a serious business that
hockey equipment manufacturer Warrior sponsored the video in 2015, giving the filmmaker $15,000 if the video surpassed 100,000 views.
There aren’t many players of color in this year’s video, but that doesn’t mean minority
hockey players haven’t let it flow.
Mike Marson became the NHL’s second black player when he joined the Washington Capitals in 1974. But he was the first to sport a killer Afro, mutton chops, and a Fu Manchu.
And who could forget goalie Eldon “Pokey” Reddick?
He appeared to be as active with the hair activator as he was in net for the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
High-scoring forward Anson Carter and enforcer Georges Laraque packed dreadlocks under their helmets during their NHL careers. Hockey tough guy Chris Simon wore his dark hair at Rapunzel-length during most of his NHL career to show Ojibwa First Nation pride.
Like their teammates, they just went with the flow.