‘Black Ice’ shines light on hockey’s dark past, murky future

Tony McKegney Photo courtesy of NHL

by Alvin A. Reid | The St. Louis American

The Negro Leagues brought innovations to baseball that are now permanent parts of the “National Pastime.”

Barred by racism from playing Major League Baseball, Black players played games featuring aggressive baserunning, stolen bases at any point of a game, and the “hit-and-run” play. The respective National and American Leagues would adopt all.

The Negro Leagues also introduced shin guards for catchers, batting helmets, night games, and promotional giveaways. Cookouts or fish fries followed many Sunday games.

“Black Ice,” a documentary examining the history of BIPOC hockey players, details a storied past that begins in 1865 with the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes. Every time you see a National Hockey League player wind up and take a slap shot, you can thank the players of the CHL.

In fact, the style of hockey played throughout the world today has its roots in this league.

According to director Hubert Davis, an Academy Award and Emmy-nominated filmmaker, the documentary “navigates the challenges, triumphs, and unique experiences faced by poignant firsthand accounts from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) hockey players past.”

The film includes the saga of Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the NHL, as well as the hockey journeys of retired player Akim Aliu, and current stars including P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds. 

Over 400 Black Canadians and Americans played semi-professional hockey in North America from 1895-1930. O’Ree first skated for the Boston Bruins on January 18, 1958, and since that historic evening 96 Black players have appeared in an NHL game.

Tony McKegney, who played for the St. Louis Blues during the 1987-88, and 88-89 seasons, was the team’s first Black player. He made history during his first year in St. Louis by becoming the first Black player to score 40 goals in a season.

In discussing why he pursued a documentary on hockey, Davis said it was the sport’s lack of diversity.

“Of all the major sports in North America, the sport of professional ice hockey is the least diverse,” Davis said.

“The NHL has never had a Black head coach and only a few Black people have reached the level of assistant coach. With increasing diversity throughout North America, the question has to be asked: Why have not more Black professional hockey players and coaches emerged? What does this say about our society? What does it say about who we are and how we view ourselves?”

L.A. Times film critic Robert Abele writes, “The veteran and current players on Davis’ interview list are passionate athletes who’ve never doubted their prowess on the ice or with a team — despite a ridiculously persistent myth correlating skin color with skating know-how, which ignores what is practically a rite of passage for any Canadian kid. But many of them have come to question whether they’ve ever truly belonged.”

Vinay Virmani and Scott Moore produced Black Ice. LeBron James and entertainers Drake and Future are executive producers of the film.

This article originally published in the St. Louis American


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