American-born hockey excellence will be celebrated in Nashville, Tennessee, when five deserving individuals are inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Wednesday night.
Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile, former three-time Winter Olympian Natalie Darwitz, legendary former University of Michigan hockey Head Coach Gordon “Red” Berenson, retired National Hockey League referee Paul Stewart and the late Leland “Hago” Harrington will be honored by the U.S. Hall.
Since opening its doors in 1973, the Hall has inducted two people of minority heritage – Henry Boucha and Bill Guerin.
Boucha, a Native American (Ojibwe), was a standout high school hockey player in Minnesota and a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team that won the Silver Medal at the Sapporo, Japan, games.
The Detroit Red Wings chose Boucha in the second round of the 1971 NHL Draft. The gifted center seemed destined for hockey stardom post-Olympics but a cracked bone around his eye – the result of a vicious 1975 altercation with Boston Bruins forward Dave Forbes – curtailed his career.
Boucha appeared in 247 NHL games for the Red Wings, Minnesota North Stars, Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies and tallied 53 goals and 49 assists. He played 36 games for the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the old World Hockey Association, scoring 15 goals and 20 assists.
Guerin, who is of Nicaraguan and Irish descent, was a high-scoring forward for seven NHL teams.
He won the Stanley Cup in 1994-95 with the New Jersey Devils and again in 2008-09 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was a Penguins assistant general manager when the team won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.
Guerin was a member of the U.S. men’s hockey team that won silver at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
He also played on the U.S. men’s squad at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the first Winter Games where NHL players competed.
During his NHL career, Guerin tallied 429 goals and 427 assists in 1,263 regular season games and 39 goals and 35 assists in 140 Stanley Cup Playoffs contests.
With more and more people of color getting involved in hockey at all levels and all aspects of the game, the time seems right to give Boucha and Guerin a little more company in the U.S. Hall.
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (who is Henry Boucha’s second cousin) should all merit U.S. Hall induction consideration if their careers continue on their current paths.
As for the here and now, who fulfills the Hall’s induction criteria that nominees must exhibit extraordinary contributions to hockey in the United States? Some suggestions:
NEAL HENDERSON, head coach/founder of Washington, D.C.’s Fort Dupont Hockey Club. Henderson was preaching that “Hockey is for Everyone” long before tit became the NHL’s mantra.
He’s the patriarch of North America’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program – 43 years and counting – and is responsible for building a generation of black hockey players and fans in the Washington, D.C., region and beyond.
Henderson, 82, has also launched a generation of kids, many of them disadvantaged, on paths toward success by using hockey to teach the value of teamwork, responsibility, punctuality, good manners, and the necessity of pursuing an education.
He’s done so despite undergoing joint surgeries, skating in an ancient ice rink in one of Washington’s tougher neighborhoods, and often having only just enough money to pay the non-profit program’s bills.
“There are few coaches as remarkable and deserving as Neal Henderson, who I believe is an obvious choice for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame,” said U.S. House Rep. Mike Quigley, co-chair of the Congressional Hockey Caucus on Capitol Hill. “Neal has dedicated himself to the principle that ‘Hockey is for Everyone,’ having spent decades fostering community and ensuring that every child in D.C. – regardless of race, zip code, socioeconomic status – has the opportunity to fall in love with the game.”
Henderson’s Fort Dupont program has produced success stories like Lt. Col Ralph Featherstone, a U.S. Marine aviator who became the first black captain of the United States Naval Academy’s hockey team.
Duante Abercrombie, another Henderson pupil, is now the head coach of the Washington Little Capitals 16U National Team, a program with a track record of developing players who go on to NCAA hockey programs and junior leagues like the USHL.
Fort Dupont became the model for programs like the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and similar organizations under the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” umbrella.
It’s not for nothing that after Capitals won the Stanley Cup in June, team Owner Ted Leonsis and superstar forward Alex Ovechkin took it to the Fort Dupont Ice Arena to share it with Henderson’s players.
SCOTT GOMEZ, is a two-time Stanley Cup champion who also won the NHL’s 1999-2000 Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
The son of a Mexican-American father and Colombian mother, Gomez is regarded as perhaps the best hockey player to come out of Anchorage, Alaska.
A center, Gomez played for seven teams over his 16-year NHL career but he’ll forever be associated with the New Jersey Devils, the team he collected Cups with in 1999-2000 and 2002-2003.
He had his best season in New Jersey in 2005-06 when he notched 33 goals and 51 assists in 82 regular season games and 5 goals and 4 assists in nine playoff games.
In all, he tallied 181 goals and 575 assists in 1079 NHL regular season contests and 29 goals and 72 assists in 149 playoff games.
Gomez had a goal and 4 assists in six games for the U.S. at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. He also skated for the U.S. at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship tournaments in 1997-98 and 1998-99 and the 2004 World Cup.
His international stat sheet: 6 goals, 14 assists in 24 games.
Gomez, currently an assistant coach for the New York Islanders, embraced his heritage throughout his career and his play inspired other Hispanics to watch and take up hockey.
“If a Hispanic player like Scott Gomez can overcome his many life obstacles from afar in Alaska to play professional hockey in the NHL, the Hispanic player from New Jersey, Miami, New York can propose to achieve the same,” said Nelson Negron, a Mahwah, New Jersey, resident whose son, Peter Negron is a goaltender for NCAA Division III Hamilton College. “And Scott represented himself, family, teammates and Hispanics well by being a consummate and exemplary professional and human being.”
JULIE CHU, is a four-time Winter Olympian and one of the most-decorated players in U.S. women’s hockey history.
She has more hardware than Home Depot – Olympic Silver Medals from Sochi in 2014, Vancouver in 2010, Salt Lake City in 2002 and a Bronze Medal from Turin in 2006.
Chu was the U.S. flag-bearer at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games in Russia, joining Hockey Hall of Fame and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Cammi Granato as the only women’s hockey players to receive the honor.
She’s the first person of color to carry the U.S. at a Winter Olympics closing ceremony.
Chu, who was a forward, owns a lot of gold in the form of IIHF Women’s World Championship medals. She earned them with U.S. women’s teams that competed in 2005 in Sweden, 2008 in China, 2009 in Finland, 2011 in Switzerland and 2013 in Ottawa.
When Chu’s U.S. teams didn’t win gold medals at IIHF tournaments, they earned silver in 2001 in Minnesota, 2002 in Halifax, 2007 in Winnipeg, and 2012 in Vermont.
Chu tallied 4 goals and 20 assists in 20 Winter Olympics matches. She notched 13 goals and 34 assists in 44 IIHF world championship contests.
A four-time All-American at Harvard University, she is the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer in women’s hockey with 284 points – 88 goals and 196 assists in 129 games – over four seasons.
Chu won three Canadian Women’s Hockey League championships in 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2016-17. She’s now the head coach of Concordia University’s women’s hockey team in Montreal.
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