Some hockey fans are familiar with the story of Willie O'Ree, who was the first Black player to break the color line in the NHL when he was called up by the Boston Bruins in January 18, 1958 and played his first game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Sadly, O'Ree played only two NHL games that season and 43 more in the 1961 one with the Bruins because he was hit in the right eye with a puck and lost sight in it. He still managed to play 21 seasons of professional hockey, become an ambassador for the game of hockey and runs the NHL diversity effort entitled Hockey Is For Everyone.
But thanks to Canadian historians George and Darril Fosty's book Black Ice, it talks about a little known piece of our sporting history. The Black legacy in hockey can be traced back to the early 1870s and is also intertwined with the history of the Black Loyalists as well.
Many of these players were descendants of the Black Loyalists, and the book also delves into the fascinating history of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes. The league was formed in 1895, was headquartered in Halifax, NS and lasted until the 1920s.
The Fosty's reveal in this book that the Colored League players were so talented, they were frozen out of the predominately white run competition for the Stanley Cup, which commenced in 1893. They also point out that many of hockey's innovations such as the slap shot, the offensive style of goaltending, sitting completely down to the ice to stop the puck, and half time shows at games were creations of Black players.
The Black players in the modern NHL such as Jarome Iginla, Mike Grier, Georges Laraque, Anson Carter and Kevin Weekes all are building on Willie O'Ree's legacy and the legacy of Hall of Fame players like goaltender Grant Fuhr.
But they are also playing for the turn of the 20th century players such as Henry Sylvester Williams, James Johnston and James Kinney who have yet to see their stories enshrined in hockey history as well.