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Soul on Ice.

A handful of black hockey players have a longer tradition than most fans would

Frequently referred to as the fastest team sport in the world, professional ice hockey is unique--the only non-martial arts sport where you can legally punch your opponent's lights out. But, despite the image of hockey as a rough, physical sport with excessive violence and `thugs on skates' ice hockey is an exciting, fast-paced team sport whose popularity has swollen tremendously in the last 10 years. Along with a growing fan base, hockey fans are seeing more color than ever on the ice.

The history of black participation in hockey goes back to the turn-of-the-century in Woodstock, Canada, where Hipple Galloway played in the Central Ontario Hockey Association. Around the same time, a Colored Hockey League, similar to Negro League Baseball, was formed in Atlantic, Canada. The league was very competitive and had a predominately white fan base, but they rigorously played all challengers--and often won. After the league disbanded, former membership teams played exhibition games. Black players and hockey associations appeared throughout Canada until the 1950s, when the National Hockey League was formed.

"We can excel at any sport we participate in," said Willie O'Ree, whose book, The Autobiography of Willie O'Ree: Hockey's Black Pioneer is available through NHL Books (see scoreboard). O'Ree became the first black in the NHL in 1958. While on a recent promotional tour for minor league hockey, O'Ree asserted, "they used to say that hockey was a white man's game, but that was ridiculous. Owners were told that blacks had weak ankles and were afraid of the cold ... anything to keep us out. All we needed was exposure." O'Ree is now the director of Youth Development for the NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force.

In spite of our history in the sport, there are still only a handful of black players in the NHL. Team expansion has greatly affected the slots open to black players, and the spirit of the increased fan base has helped the best players go professional, regardless of race. The fact remains, however, that there are more blacks on the pro-golf tour than in today's National Hockey League.

As the sport continues to change, evolving around skill and toughness, the attitude among people of color indicates that ice hockey can be conquered just like anything else. "It's gotten to the point where we're on the horizon," said former Buffalo Sabre Tony McKegney, one of only 35 black players in NHL history, in a recent interview. "More kids are getting involved in the game. I guarantee you if blacks were exposed to the game equally, you'd have the hockey equivalent of a Michael Jordan."

Unfortunately, black hockey fans have few avenues to read about their heroes, as sports publishing has yet to catch up to the current renaissance of people of color in the sport. O'Ree's book for young adults, as well as A Fly in a Pail of Milk: The Herb Carnegie Story (Mosaic Press, 2000), which chronicles the life of the hockey great for adult sports fans, are the only two titles currently available about blacks in hockey.

According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league is working hard "to increase the exposure of the sport and enable its fan base to grow and to be more inclusive." It is up to fans to put similar pressure on their favorite sports publishers to be aware of this trend and respond to it accordingly so that sports fans of all ages can spread the word and be inspired. Until then, BIBR will keep checking our shelves and looking out for our readers. Just like you, we're waiting ...

scoreboard

While there are unfortunately few books black hockey fans can sink their teeth into, BIBR has these recommendations for fans of all ages:

The Autobiography of Willie O'Ree: Hockey's Black Pioneer by Willie O'Ree with Michael McKinley and Cuba Gooding Somerville House, Month 2000, $4.99 ISBN 1-581-844071-3, Ages 9-12

An inspiring story of the National Hockey League's first black player. He discusses his life and times in and out of the NHL.

A Fly in a Pail of Milk: The Herb Carnegie Story by Herb Carnegie and Robert Payne Mosaic Press, April 2000, $15.95, ISBN 0-889-62604-9

Considered a legend of minor league hockey, many claim that Carnegie was born 30 years too soon.

ESPN: The Uncensored History by Michael Freeman Taylor Publishing Company, April 2000, $24.95 ISBN 0-87833-239-1

A critical analysis of the 20-year history of America's largest sports network.

Going the Distance by Ken Norton with Marshall Terill and Mike Fitzgerald Sports Publishing Inc., Spring 2000, $22.95, ISBN 1-582-61225-0

Norton--fighter, movie star, survivor--writes a spirited autobiography of his life in the spotlight.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Ellis, Kelly
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Words:788
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