Blacks in the NHL by Cindy Mercer

Hockey is for Everyone!…Black Hockey Players in the NHL

By Cindy Mercer

When Willie O’Ree stepped onto the ice of the Montreal Forum on January 18, 1958 in his Boston Bruins uniform he became the pioneer of a long line of trailblazers in the sport of ice hockey.  Because on that day Willie O’Ree, the first black man to play for the NHL became the Jackie Robinson of the sport.  In fact it had been 11 years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball but Willie’s barrier breaking moment barely registered a ripple. The Bruins needed a new player and he was the best that they had in the system.  Nothing was made of his race by the Bruins; it was simply a hockey decision.  But that does not mean that he did not receive barbs from opposing teams and fans. He did, but he handled those situations with great strength and dignity.  Today Willie O’Ree is the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and serves as a hockey ambassador for NHL Diversity.

Since then society has made tremendous strides and groundbreaking changes; the civil rights movement and the election of Barack Obama our first African American President to name the most monumental.  And the sport of Ice Hockey has tried to reflect those changes.  Through its Diversity program the NHL is trying to demonstrate that it has been effected by, and is evolving at the same pace as society’s changes.

It is at this point that I must disclose on behalf of transparency that in 2005/2006  I worked for the NHL handling Community Relations, Corporate Giving and worked on Diversity projects.  While there I saw first hand the NHL’s commitment to grass roots hockey and increasing the number of minority players within the sport.  I also had the pleasure of working and travelling with Willie O’Ree while conducting youth outreach for the NHL.  According to my former boss Ken Martin, Vice President Community Affairs & Diversity Programming, black hockey players are being drafted into the NHL at the rate of three per year. “For African Americans participating in non-traditional sports the challenge has been accessibility to that sport. Our ability to expand our horizons and to participate will deliver success on both the playing field and in the business field” said Ken Martin.  Today there are 38 minority players in the NHL and of the 38 players 21 are Black Canadian/ African American.  The numbers within the junior ranks are considerable and Ken predicts a ground swell of minority players to enter the League within the next five years.

Accessibility is the key and this future ground swell is in part due to NHL initiatives and the robust grass roots hockey efforts of USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, the governing bodies for the sport in the United States and Canada.  Also contributing to this increase is the fact that Canada, hockey’s home, has become a much more ethnically diverse country with minority participation in Canadian youth hockey on the rise.

NHL Diversity is a part of the NHL Foundation, the National Hockey League’s charitable and community relations division.  It is a major component of the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.   Since 1995, NHL Diversity has provided support to not-for-profit youth hockey organizations across the United States that are committed to offering economically disadvantaged boys and girls of all ages opportunities to play hockey.

The initiative is supported by NHL teams and players, NHL alumni, USA Hockey and fans. To date, “Hockey is for Everyone” has exposed close to 60,000 boys and girls to unique hockey experiences in the United States.  Within this program, there are approximately 30 inner-city, volunteer organizations in various stages of development that receive support from the NHL with 3 more programs scheduled to debut this year!

Children enrolled in the NHL’s 30 inner city programs also attend and are afforded high visibility and clinics at the Leagues premier events.  NHL All Star Game, The Winter Classic, NHL Awards and the Stanley Cup are just a few of the events that host children from Diversity programs.  They also attend and participate with NHL visits to the White House and the Willie O’Ree Skills Camp.  All life changing experiences for these children!

So who are currently the top black players to watch in the NHL?  Jarome Iginla Calgary Flames, who is consistently ranked in the top 10 of NHL players.  Ray Emery Philadelphia Flyers, one of three Black players to win the Stanley Cup. Evander Kane Atlanta Thrashers, the highest drafted Black Canadian player in NHL history.

Hockey is for Everyone?—Yes it is!

Willie O’Ree Feature TSN:

NHL Black History Month video:

“Hockey is for Everyone” video:

NHL Website:

NHL Minority Players, 2008-2009 Season


Francis Bouillon# – Montreal Canadiens
Donald BrashearWashington Capitals
Dustin ByfuglienChicago Blackhawks
Trevor Daley§ – Dallas Stars
Nigel DawesNew York Rangers
Mike GrierSan Jose Sharks
Jarome Iginla€ – Calgary Flames
Georges LaraqueMontreal Canadiens
Jamal MayersToronto Maple Leafs
Kyle OkposoNew York Islanders
John OduyaNew Jersey Devils
Bryce SalvadorNew Jersey Devils
Wayne SimmondsLos Angeles Kings
Anthony StewartFlorida Panthers
Joel WardNashville Predators
Kevin WeekesNew Jersey Devils


Paul KariyaSt. Louis Blues
Richard ParkNew York Islanders
Devin SetoguchiSan Jose Sharks
David TanabeCarolina Hurricanes


Scott GomezNew York Rangers
Bill GuerinNew York Islanders
Raffi TorresColumbus Blue Jackets
Al MontoyaPhoenix Coyotes


Arron AshamPhiladelphia Flyers
Rene BourqueCalgary Flames
Vernon FiddlerNashville Predators
Sheldon SourayEdmonton Oilers
Wade ReddenNew York Rangers
Jonathan CheechooSan Jose Sharks
T.J. OshieSt. Louis Blues


Jordin TootooNashville Predators
South Asian/Indian

Manny Malhotra**  – Columbus Blue Jackets

# – Half Haitian
§ – Half Jamaican
€ – Half Nigerian
** – Half South Asian/Indian

NHL Minority Players, 2008-2009 Season
“In the System”


Akim Aliu – Chicago Blackhawks (London Knights)
Chris Beckford-Tseu§ – Florida Panthers (Rochester Americans)
Shawn Belle – Montreal Canadiens (Hamilton Bulldogs)
Robbie Earl – Minnesota Wild (Houston Aeros)
Mark Fraser – New Jersey Devils (Lowell Devils)
Maxime Fortunus – Dallas Stars (Manitoba Moose)
Derek Joslin –  San Jose Sharks (Worchester Sharks)
Greg Mauldin – Ottawa Senators (Binghamton Senators)
Kenndal McArdleFlorida Panthers (Rochester Americans)
Theo PeckhamEdmonton Oilers (Springfield Falcons)
Ryan Reaves – St. Louis Blues (Peoria Rivermen)
Chris StewartColorado Avalanche (Lake Erie Monsters)
P.K. Subban – Montreal Canadiens (Belleville Bulls)


Martin Kariya – St. Louis Blues (Peoria Rivermen)
Wacey Rabbit – Boston Bruins (Providence Bruins)
Brandon Yip – Colorado Avalanche (Boston University)

Brandon NolanCarolina Hurricanes (Albany River Rats)


§ – Half Jamaican

Former NHL Black Players (With Year They Entered NHL)

Willie O’Ree (1958)

Mike Marson (1974)
Bill Riley (1974)
Tony McKegney (1978)
Ray Neufeld (1979)
Bernie Saunders (1979)

Val James (1981)
Grant Fuhr (1981)
Dirk Graham (1983)
Brian Johnson (1983)
Darren Lowe (1983)
Eldon “Pokey” Reddick (1986)
Steve Fletcher (1987)
Claude Vilgrain (1987)
Paul Jerrard (1988)
Mike McHugh (1988)
Graeme Townshend (1989)

Reggie Savage (1990)
Dale Craigwell (1991)
Darren Banks (1992)
Nathan LaFayette (1993)
Sandy McCarthy (1993)
Fred Brathwaite (1993)
Craig Martin (1994)
Joaquin Gage (1994)
Jason Doig (1995)
Sean Brown (1996)
Rumun Ndur (1996)
Anson Carter (1996)
John Craighead (1996)
Peter Worrell (1997)
Tyrone Garner (1997)
Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre (1998)

Sean McMorrow (2002)
Nathan Robinson (2003)
Gerald Coleman (2005) NHL Diversity Athlete
Mark Fraser (2006)

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