We all know the powerhouses of international hockey: Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and the United States. These nations have put together impressive squads with and without NHL players throughout their storied histories.
What if players were able to put on the uniform of their family’s cultural heritage or nationality? What would some of those teams look like? Well we at Brotherly Puck wanted an answer, so we decided to fill the void that is now with us thanks to the postponement of the NHL season to hopefully inform and entertain hockey fans of all backgrounds.
The Rationale Behind The Black Heritage Team
With the shocking murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, outrage and protests have put the spotlight on what it means to be Black in the world today. Understandably, people from all walks of life and from a multitude of different backgrounds watched in horror as an officer who swore to ‘Serve and Protect’ his community knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes during his arrest. Despite pleas of “I can’t breathe”, Floyd died of asphyxiation and the arresting officer and three others were themselves arrested for Floyd’s death. While everyone has since tried to make sense of what was witnessed, people have reacted with emotions ranging from anger and rage, to grief, dismay, and profound sadness. After all, these things are just not supposed to happen in America where “all men are created equal”.
But it did. And quite visibly, we are not.
While I identify as a Canadian citizen of Portuguese Heritage who is White, I find myself struggling with the difficult and uncomfortable realities that have been placed before us to face. If it were me on the floor being arrested, would I have received the same treatment that George Floyd did? Most certainly not. The reason for that difference is unquestionably race. The inequality that still exists in the world today shows us that no matter how far we have come as individuals and collectively as people, we still have quite a way to go to ensure that the statement “all men are created equal” is more than just a slogan.
With people becoming more exposed to the ways that Black Americans and Canadians of African or Caribbean descent are treated within our respective societies, I felt that there should be an increased focus and appreciation for the contributions that Black players have made to the game of hockey. While I realize that I should be listening to other perspectives and points of view with regard to how groups other than mine are treated within the societal context, current events have moved me to seek out how to advocate and support these underrepresented groups.
While I always did plan to write a piece on Black players within the framework of my All-Time Heritage Teams series, I was unsure of how to attempt this task. After speaking to my neighbor Courtney Duncan, he encouraged me to write the piece and share the accomplishments of Black players to hockey as a way of demonstrating how valuable diversity and richness is. Thank you, Courtney for encouraging me to engage in the conversation in this manner and to not stay silent. #BlackLivesMatter
The Black Heritage Team
Players who identify as Black come from a variety of rich cultural backgrounds, primarily stemming from Africa or the Caribbean while also being citizens of countries like the United States and Canada. Hockey is a predominately seen as a White sport, but Black athletes are increasingly playing the sport at all levels of the game. According to an article on wdet.org from earlier this year, there are currently 43 players in the NHL who identify as a player of color out of more than 700 total players (https://wdet.org/posts/2020/01/17/89118-there-are-only-43-players-of-color-in-the-nhl-three-of-them-play-for-the-red-wings-a-historic-first/#:~:text=African%2DAmericans%20have%20a%20history,than%20700%20in%20the%20league.). While that only accounts for less than 5% of the league’s players, it is progress from the days when Willie O’Ree broke the color barrier by being the first Black player in the NHL with the Boston Bruins in the 1960-61 season. There is undoubtedly a long way to go for underrepresented groups to be more prominent in today’s game, but young players and prospects that already are fixtures in the NHL game or will be in the years to come provide hope that the gap may be narrowing. Players such as K’Andre Miller, Quinton Byfield, and Akil Thomas are just a few promising examples of players who will soon be in the NHL.
With regards to the selection of the Black Heritage Team, there was ample depth at goaltender, on defense, and on the wings. In coming up with the roster, the Center position was a glaring hole. As a result, I had to take a few creative liberties in order to ice the best possible team. Rather than have the aforementioned Byfield (who has not yet been drafted, let alone played in the NHL) as the first line center, I decided to move Dirk Graham (who played Right Wing) to the Center position. I did this because of Graham’s vast leadership experience, his prowess as a penalty killer, as well as the fact that he won the Selke Award as the NHL’s best defensive forward. I felt comfortable moving Graham to Center as he seemed the most capable of all of the forwards selected to be able to make that transition.
With Graham at Center, there was still a massive glut of right-wingers. To address this, I moved Jamal Mayers to the team’s fourth line center position and moved Anson Carter to the left wing. I felt that both players deserved a spot on this roster and that it wasn’t too much of a leap to put them in these new positions. Overall, I felt that these moves would make the roster more balanced and effectively addressed the lack of Center depth on the team.
With that, let’s take a look at what a starting lineup would look like for the Black Heritage Team.
Dirk Graham – Center
Dirk Graham may not have the goal and point scoring acumen of others who are mentioned in this article, but his leadership ability and his role as a trailblazer cannot be understated. Graham is biracial and has a parent of African descent. Graham played junior hockey with the Regina Pats (now of the WHL) from 1976-77 to 1978-79 (although he played 2 games in 1975-76). In three full seasons playing with his hometown Pats, Graham tallied 37, 49, and 48 goal seasons while hitting 65, 110, and 108 points. Graham was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks 89th overall in the 1979 NHL Draft, and proceeded to spend the next five seasons in the Central Hockey League (CHL) and the International Hockey League (IHL) with the Dallas Black Hawks (CHL), the Fort Wayne Komets (IHL), the Toledo Goaldiggers (IHL), and the Salt Lake Golden Eagles (CHL). Graham never played a game with the Canucks, and ended up signing with the Minnesota North Stars as a free agent. Graham finally played in the NHL with Minnesota in the 1983-84 season, playing in only 6 games and scoring 1 goal and 1 assist. After beginning the following season in the AHL with the Springfield Indians, Graham finally made the NHL on a full-time basis in 1984-85 scoring 23 points in 36 games. After scoring 22 goals and 55 points in 1985-86 and 25 goals and 54 points in 1986-87, Graham was selected to represent Canada at the World Hockey Championship in Austria. Canada finished 4th at the tournament with Graham registering 3 points. Partway through his next NHL season, Graham was traded by the North Stars to the Chicago Blackhawks on January 2nd, 1988. In his first full season with the Blackhawks in 1988-89, Graham scored a career high 33 goals and 78 points with an unbelievable 10 shorthanded goals. With his tenacity as a penalty killer and a reknowned work ethic, he would end up replacing Chicago fan favorite Denis Savard as Captain after Savard was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Chris Chelios. As a result, Dirk Graham became the first player with African heritage to be named Captain in NHL history. Graham is primarily known for his time with the Blackhawks, and would go on to score at least 20 goals in a season with the team on four occasions. He was recognized for his hard work at both ends of the ice in 1990-91 when he won the Frank J. Selke Award after being voted the NHL’s best defensive forward. His play earned him the call to represent Canada internationally once again; this time at the 1991 Canada Cup where Canada defeated the United States to win the tournament. The Chicago Blackhawks captained by Graham made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1991-92, but were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins even though Graham scored a hat-trick in the final game. He would retire in the lockout shortened season of 1994-95, finishing with career totals of 219 goals, 270 assists, 489 points, and 917 PIMs in 772 games. After joining the Blackhawks coaching staff in 1995-96 as an Assistant Coach to Craig Hartsburg, Graham also went into scouting for the club. He was named Head Coach in 1998-99, but only lasted 59 games before being replaced. Graham still broke new ground as he became the first coach in NHL history to be of African descent.
This video courtesy of Russian NHL shows a line brawl between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings with Graham taking on Vladimir Konstantinov:
This video shows Dirk Graham scoring a hat-trick in the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals versus the Pittsburgh Penguins courtesy of the NHL:
Jarome Iginla – Right Winger
Jarome Iginla was an automatic choice for the forward ranks of this squad. Iginla was born to a Nigerian father and a White mother in Edmonton, Alberta. He began an illustrious hockey career in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers; playing for three seasons and winning both the WHL Championship and the CHL’s Memorial Cup in his first two seasons. With such success in his draft eligible year, Iginla ended up being selected 11th overall in the 1995 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars. Iginla would return to Kamloops; and in his third and final season with Kamloops, Iginla would go on to score an unreal 63 goals and 73 assists for 136 points in only 63 games and be named the WHL’s Most Outstanding Player. After making Canada’s U20 team for the World Junior Hockey Championship, Iginla was traded by the Dallas Stars to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Joe Nieuwendyk. Iginla ended up leading the Canadian team in scoring with 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points in 6 games and helping Canada win a fourth consecutive Gold medal. Jarome Iginla would make his NHL debut with the Calgary Flames in the 1996-97 season, scoring 21 goals and 29 assists for 50 points in 82 games. After a disappointing second season in Calgary with only 13 goals, Iginla became a consistent and dependable contributor for the Flames scoring 28, 29, and 31 goals in the following three seasons. In 2001-02, Iginla emerged as a bona fide star in the NHL with a 52 goal and 44 assist campaign. His 96 points that season led him some NHL hardware as he won the Art Ross Trophy (NHL Leader in Points), the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy (NHL Leader in Goals), and the Lester B. Pearson Trophy (NHL MVP as voted by the players). Iginla finished 2nd in Hart Trophy voting that season, losing the award to Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore. Iginla’s banner year was also highlighted by his participation in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City on Canada’s hockey team. Most notably, Iginla scored two goals to lead Canada to a 5-2 win over the United States in the Gold Medal game and ended a 50 year drought for Canada in the men’s event. After scoring 35 goals in 2002-03, Iginla once again won the ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy by scoring 41 goals in 2003-04, and winning the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his excellence on the ice and the humanitarian contributions made off the ice in the community. Jarome Iginla has devoted much of his time and energy to supporting diabetes research, running a hockey school in Calgary, and supporting causes that encourage youth to participate in sport. Jarome Iginla would reach his career high in points in 2007-08 with 50 goals and 48 assists for 98 points. Iginla once again played for Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Disappointed from Canada’s last Olympic experience in Turin in 2006, Iginla was an Alternate Captain on home soil. With the Gold medal on the line in overtime, Iginla passed the puck to Sidney Crosby who fired home the ‘Golden Goal’ past Ryan Miller to defeat the U.S. 3-2. After 15 seasons in Calgary, Iginla spent the rest of his NHL career searching for the Stanley Cup that eluded him since his greatest opportunity in the 2004 season when the Flames lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He went on to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings before retiring in 2016-17. Despite not winning the Stanley Cup, Iginla has had a career that is undeniably successful. He scored 625 goals and 675 assists for 1300 points in 1554 games. He scored 50+ goals twice, 40+ goals twice, and hit the 30+ eight times. Iginla will always be remembered for his goal scoring ability, the ability to drop the gloves (much to the dismay of his fans), and his seemingly never-ending smile while playing the game. He currently resides in the Boston area with his family, is a part owner of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, and will undeniably enter the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Calgary Flame upon being eligible later this year.
Here is a revisiting of the ‘Golden Goal’ from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver courtesy of CBC Sports:
Tony McKegney – Left Winger
Tony McKegney was a 13 season veteran of the NHL as a player with the Buffalo Sabres, Quebec Nordiques, Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings, and the Chicago Blackhawks. McKegney was born in Montreal, was adopted by a White family, and was raised in Sarnia, Ontario. He played his junior hockey with the Kingston Canadians for four years, with his last two years being exceptionally memorable with McKegney scoring 58 and 43 goals. McKegney was selected to represent Canada at the U20 World Junior Championships in 1978, scoring 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points in 6 games. When McKegney was ready to turn pro, he had to decide where to play between the NHL and the rival World Hockey Association (WHA). While the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA wanted to sign McKegney, season ticket holders of the club made it known that they did not want McKegney on the team because he was a Black player. When the Buffalo Sabres drafted McKegney 32nd overall in the 1978 NHL Draft, McKegney chose to sign with the Sabres as rumors were swirling that the WHA would not survive as a viable league for much longer. McKegney began his career as a rookie with the Sabres in 1978-79 with 8 goals and 22 points in 52 games. He would improve in the remainder of his time with the Sabres, scoring at least 23 goals per season over the next four seasons including 37 goals in 1980-81 and 36 goals in 1982-83. Throughout his career, McKegney scored 20+ goals five times, 30+ goals three times, and scored a career high 40 goals with the St. Louis Blues in 1987-88 (78 points). For his career, McKegney scored 320 goals and 319 assists for 639 points in 912 games. Scoring aside, McKegney was also revered as a hardnosed competitor who was willing to stick up for teammates on the ice. In 1992-93, McKegney tryed out for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s inaugural squad under Head Coach Terry Crisp. After not making the team, McKegney joined the San Diego Gulls of the IHL and retired after scoring 13 points in 23 games.
Here is a video clip by the Buffalo Sabres where McKegney talks about being a part of some legendary Sabres teams and how he made his start in professional hockey:
Also, check out this candid interview where McKegney speaks about his experiences as a player in the NHL courtest of Sportsnet:
Seth Jones – Defence
Seth Jones is an American defenseman who is biracial. Born in Arlington, Texas; Seth came from athletic bloodlines as his father Popeye Jones played NBA basketball for 11 seasons. Seth Jones was a highly touted prospect heading up to the 2013 NHL Draft. Jones began his hockey career with the United States National Development Team Program (USNDTP) scoring 26 points in 48 games over the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Jones then chose to go to the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks for his draft season in 2012-13, and he went on to score 14 goals and 42 assists for 56 points in 61 games. His great play in Portland led many scouts to believe that Jones was going to be taken in the top three picks of the 2013 NHL Draft, but Jones slipped to 4th and was selected by the Nashville Predators. Already stacked at the position, Jones made his Predators debut the following season in 2013-14 and scored 6 goals and 19 assists for 28 points in 77 games. He finished 11th in Calder Trophy voting for that season. In the middle of his third season in Nashville, Jones was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets midseason in exchange for Ryan Johansen. In 41 games with the Blue Jackets, Jones put up 20 points in 41 games (he had 11 points in 40 games with Nashville). In his first full season in Columbus in 2016-17, Jones increased his production to 12 goals and 30 assists for 42 points in 75 games. The following season, Jones put up career highs with 16 goals and 41 assists for 57 points in 78 games and finished 4th in Norris Trophy voting. Jones continues to be recognized not only as the best defensemen on his team, but his tenacity and ability to play difficult minutes in all situations has earned him recognition as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Internationally, Seth has represented the United States many times; winning Gold with the U.S. Team in 2011 and 2012 with the U18’s, and in 2013 at the U20 World Junior Hockey Championship. In particular, Jones starred at the WJHC scoring 1 goal and adding 6 assists for 7 points in 7 games. Thus far in his young career, Jones has been recognized as an NHL All-Star four times, with many more plaudits surely on the horizon.
Here is a video from Sports Montage with highlights from Seth Jones’ career:
P.K. Subban – Defence
P.K. (Pernell-Karl) Subban was a 2nd Round pick (43rd overall) by the Montreal Canadiens in 2007. The son of parents of Caribbean immigrants to Canada (Jamaica and Montserrat), P.K. was born and raised in Toronto along with his other hockey playing brothers Malcolm and Jordan. He spent the entirety of his junior hockey career (4 years) with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL. In his draft year in 2006-07, Subban scored 15 goals and 41 assists for 56 points in 68 games. His final year in Belleville culminated in a 14 goal and 62 assist campaign for 76 points in only 56 games. Subban was then selected to represent Canada at the U20 World Junior Hockey Championships in 2008 and 2009. Canada won the Gold medal in both years; with Subban going scoreless in 7 games in 2008, and scoring 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points in 6 games in 2009. He made his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens in 2009-10, registering 2 assists in the only 2 games that he played. His first full season came the very next year, and P.K Subban quickly endeared himself to the passionate Canadiens fans with his hard hits, energetic play, and offensive ability. His rookie season saw Subban score 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points in 77 games. He finished 6th in voting for the Calder Trophy in that season and was selected for the NHL All Rookie Team. Two season later in 2012-13, P.K. Subban won the Norris Trophy as the best Defenceman with 11 goals and 27 assists for 38 points in a shortened 42 game season. In his final three season in Montreal, Subban would score 53, 60, and 51 points respectively and finish 3rd in Norris voting in 2014-15. Subban would once again represent Canada internationally; this time as a member of the 2014 Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team that won Gold in Sochi, Russia. He only ended up playing in one game at the tournament as Canada sported an incredibly deep blueline. His exemplary play elevated Subban to fan favorite status with Canadiens fans and inspired Subban to give back with incredibly generous gestures of philanthropy and charity work. In particular, Subban made headlines with a $10 million dollar donation to the Montreal Children’s Hospital and cemented his status as an icon on and off the ice. In trade that stunned the hockey world and shocked Habs fans, P.K. Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber on June 29, 2016. He would spend three seasons with Nashville, scoring 40, 59, and 31 points respectively in those seasons. Subban’s most successful seasons in Nashville were in 2016-17 as the Predators made it to the Stanley Cup Final only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Subban followed up that season with a career high 16 goal 59 point campaign, and finished 3rd in Norris voting once again. Subban was traded once again; this time from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils at the 2019 NHL Draft where he is still currently playing. Thus far, P.K. Subban has made tremendous contributions both on and off the ice. While he has yet to hoist the Stanley Cup, he been named an NHL All-Star three times.
Here is video package of P.K. Subban highlights from his career in Montreal and Nashville courtesy of The Highlight Factory:
Here is video of P.K. Subban giving his time to support the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 courtesy of the NHL:
Grant Fuhr – Goaltender
Grant Fuhr is a no-brainer as the starting goaltender for this squad. Fuhr is biracial and has mixed parentage of both Caucasian and African-Canadian heritage. Drafted 8th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 1981, Grant Fuhr joined an Oilers team that had recently joined the NHL from the rival WHA loaded with young stars. In his rookie season in 1981-82, Fuhr started 48 games posting a record of 28-5-14 and having an unbeaten streak of 23 games which is still an NHL record to this day. Fuhr became the starting goaltender in the 1983 playoffs, helping the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals for the but lost out to the New York Islanders who won the fourth and final championship of their dynasty. Fuhr and the Oilers became a dynasty of their own, winning the Stanley Cup five times in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990. While in Edmonton, Fuhr never had seasons with a GAA of under 3.00 or a save percentage above 0.900. Critics may look at these statistics and judge Fuhr harshly, however it is important to remember that the NHL of the 1980’s was offense heavy with much more emphasis on playing the run and gun style that suited an Oilers team with players like Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Coffey, and Anderson. Other teams had no choice but to try to emulate and replicate the Oilers success. As a result, goaltending stats during this period are not as reflective of the goaltenders of the era. Fuhr won the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL in 1987-88 sporting a record of 40-24-9 with a 3.43 GAA and an 0.881 save percentage with 4 shutouts in 75 games. In 1991, Fuhr was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Glenn Anderson and Craig Berube, as part of a deal for Vincent Damphousse. After a season and a half in Toronto, Fuhr was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in a deal for Dave Andreychuk and Darren Puppa and won the Jennings Trophy in 1993-94 while playing with Dominek Hasek. After a disappointing stint with the Los Angeles Kings, Fuhr’s career surged with the St. Louis Blues as he broke above the 0.900 save percentage and kept his GAA to under 3.00 for the first two of his four seasons with the Blues. After playing 23 games with the Calgary Flames in 1999-00, Fuhr retired from the NHL. Known for his lightning fast glove and competitive nature, Fuhr finished his career with 403 wins and sits 12th on the NHL’s all-time list in that category. He holds NHL records for most games played in a season (79), as well as most consecutive games played in a season (76). After his playing career, Fuhr became a goaltending coach for the Phoenix Coyotes from 2005-06 to 2008-09. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 and his #31 has been retired by the Oilers.
Here is video courtesy of the NHL commemorating Grant Fuhr’s storied career:
Black Heritage Team – Final Roster
Tony McKegney – Dirk Graham – Jarome Iginla
Evander Kane – Quinton Byfield – Wayne Simmonds
Anson Carter – Nathan Lafayette – Kyle Okposo
Anthony Duclair – Jamal Mayers – Mike Grier
Seth Jones – P.K. Subban
Dustin Byfuglien – Darnell Nurse
Johnny Oduya – Trevor Daley
Did I leave anyone out that you feel should have been included? Any tinkering with the lineup that I selected? Feel free to leave a comment or leave a response via twitter.
Until next time from Preaching to the Flyer on BrotherlyPuck.com,
photo credit: nhlpa.com