Dacosta 400 - Mathieu DaCosta

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Black Hockey

Who: Herb Carnegie; William O’Ree; Grant Fuhr; Mike Marson; Bill O’Riley; Jarome Iginla
What: Hockey; the first Black hockey player in the NHL; first MVP; role models.
Where: Started in Nova Scotia, Canada.
When: Documented starting in the 1870s.
Why: Broke the colour barrier, Black hockey players can play too, tremendous talent.

A Black Hockey Player… You’re kidding?!

When we think of hockey, we think of it as a “white man’s” sport. This misconception is largely due to the research done by white historians. The roots of modern Canadian hockey can be found with early African-Canadian hockey. The birthplace of modern hockey is Nova Scotia and can date Black hockey to the early 1870s. During the early years there is no evidence of Black hockey players being allowed to join white teams. The first recorded mention of an all-Black hockey team, The Colored League, appears in 1895 in Halifax. The Colored League was run by the best and brightest Black men and thus was able to provide funding to rent arenas and receive mention in the Halifax press. James A.R. Kinney would become the chief organizer and driving force behind the league.

The players of the Colored League of the Maritimes were some of Canada’s finest players. This league was the first hockey league to allow the goalie to go down on the ice to stop a shot; the first goalie to do so was Henry Franklyn. A political and legal fight between the local Black residents of Africville and the city of Halifax would result in the destruction of the league. During the 1920s, Black hockey players returned to the ice. Once again the Colored League would be recognized in the media, marking the beginning of an amazing history of truly talented hockey players.

The First Black hockey players in the NHL, and one who should have been…

Herb Carnegie from Toronto had hopes of entering the NHL in the 1930s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Conn Smythe allegedly commented, “I will give $10,000 to anyone who can turn Herbert Carnegie white.” Whether or not Smythe made this statement is up for debate. Carnegie turned down an offer to play in the minors which might have led to the NHL. Carnegie’s dreams of entering the NHL were never fulfilled. However, he has devoted much of his post-hockey life to helping others who are interested in hockey. In 1955, he founded the Future Aces School, which is believed to be the first hockey school in North America.

In 1958, William O’Ree broke the colour barrier and became the first Black hockey player to join the NHL, playing for the Boston Bruins in the Montreal Forum. O’Ree was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 1935. He started playing when he was three years old. In 1955 O’Ree signed with the Kitchener Canucks, which would change his life. During a game he got hit in the face with a puck; there was no protection equipment for players at the time, and the puck shattered his right eye. At 21 his career would have been over, except O’Ree decided to keep playing without anyone knowing of his blindness in his right eye. O’Ree began the 1957-58 season in Quebec. On January 17, 1958 his NHL call came. The next day O’Ree was number 22 on the Boston Bruins line-up. He was the first Black hockey player in the NHL.

Willie O'Ree in Action (15sec .mpg movie clip - 2.7Mb)

In 1974, Mike Marson became the second Black hockey player in the NHL, playing for the Washington Capitals. When he debuted, he was the National Hockey League’s only Canadian who was Black. He underwent terrible racism and ridicule by fans on the ice. After playing three games for the Los Angeles Kings in the 1979-80 season, he chose to retire at the age of twenty-five. Bill Riley was the third Black hockey player to join the NHL. He played 139 games beginning in 1974 with the Washington Capitals and ending in the 179-80 season with the Winnipeg Jets. In 1974, Riley and Mike Marson played together and marked the first time two Black hockey players appeared in an NHL game at the same time.

In 1984 goalie Grant Fuhr became the first Black player to have his name on the Stanley Cup. He won Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, ’85, ’87, ’88 and ’90. Fuhr was the most successful Black hockey player, playing from 1981 until he retired. He played for seven NHL teams, competed internationally with Team Canada, and was a repeated all-star choice.

Tony McKegney scored 40 goals in the 1987-88 season with the St. Louis Blues. McKegney was the fourth Black hockey in the NHL, and superstar Jarome Iginla’s role model. Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames led the NHL in goals and became the first Black player ever to be named Most Valuable Player in the 2001-2002 season. Iginla was the seventh player in Flames history to score fifty goals in a season. From the time he was a teenager, Iginla knew hockey was the sport for him. To make full use of his hockey skills he left home at sixteen to live with a billet family in Kamloops. He found a spot on the Olympic team, which led him to the NHL. He has succeeded with his boyhood dreams of playing hockey and becoming one of the most successful Black hockey players to hit the ice.

Although today the number of Black hockey players in the NHL is still small, it can no longer be counted on two hands. Slowly but surely the game of hockey is becoming a sport for talented, driven individuals regardless of race. There are training camps geared at Black youths who are interested in hockey that give them a chance to play and learn. Camps such as these encourage youths to follow their heart and play any sport they wish, including hockey. Hockey once was deemed a “white man’s sport”; however, the above-mentioned players and many others have happily proven that statement wrong.


Fosty Darril, & Fosty George (2004). Black Ice. The lost history of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925. Stryker-Indigo Publishing Company, Inc., New York.

Harris Cecil (2003). Breaking the Ice. The Black experience in professional hockey. Insomniac Press, Ontario, Canada.

Dacosta 400 - Mathieu DaCosta

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