What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold
Cross Cultural Centers screens film highlighting the success of black hockey players
March 3, 2017
Filed under Arts
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Black athletes who play hockey are rarely talked about, but do exist and excel. For this reason, they are the subject of Soul on Ice, a 2015 sports documentary directed by Canadian filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason. The filmmaker was invited to speak at the screening at the U-SU Theatre by Cross Cultural Centers and Pan African Studies Prof. Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar. “We needed to make sure we were lifting up films from the African Diaspora,” Abdul-Jabbaar said. “We want to show that black people make films about everything.”
Cross Cultural Centers (CCC) director Frederick Smith collaborated with Prof. Abdul-Jabbaar on the event, their goal being to highlight black filmmakers and their unique creations. Smith said the idea was suggested by Abdul-Jabbar, who had met Mason and saw Soul on Ice. “It all started with a casual conversation, ‘what do you think about black people and hockey’, and [I] never thought about it [before], but I’m always thinking about what are experiences and memories that we can create… we thought about it, we collaborated on it, and we just made it happen.”
Many of Abdul-Jabbar’s students came out to watch the film, and were witness to a tale about the past, present, and future of Black hockey. Soul on Ice begins with Mason speaking about his love for Hockey, which he grew up playing as a young kid in Toronto, Canada. Even though he had and still has great passion for the sport, as a black youth playing predominantly with white players, he felt as though it wasn’t for him.
It wasn’t until his thirties that Mason began learning about the rich lineage of black hockey, dating all the way back to 1894 with the emergence of the Colored Hockey league based in the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia. Goalies from Colored Hockey league teams such as the Dartmouth Jubilees and the Halifax Eurekas were the first to block pucks with their feet, a rule later adopted by the NHL.
The Colored Hockey League was eventually forced to disband after being displaced by railroad plans in their local area, but Hockey legend Herbert Carnegie carried on the tradition the league had built. Born in 1919 to Jamaican Parents, Carnegie grew up in Toronto, Canada where he grew up excelling in Canada’s favorite past time. Carnegie was making a name for himself as one of the premier talents in the semi-pro Quebec Provincial League when He caught the attention of Conn Smythe, owner of NHL team the Toronto Maple Leafs. Smythe allegedly said that he would add Carnegie to his team if he were white, or if he could paint him white. Carnegie did not make it to the NHL, but his legacy continues on to this day.
Willie O’ree was the second black hockey player to make a break for the NHL, and succeeded though great obstacles were passed his way. In one game, O’ree was hit in the face with a hockey puck, which permanently blinded him in one way. He told no one except for his sister, and continued to excel in the NFL with limited eyesight from 1957 to 1979.
From there, a wave of black athletes such as Georges Laraque, Val James and Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr slid onto the ice and fascinated NHL crowds with their talent, skills, and skin color. Many fans would shout racist taunts at all of these men, horrified by the sight of a black hockey player. In Willie O’ree’s case, fans would throw chicken wings and watermelon at him to distract him.
Although the pressure and the strain was hard for many of these black athletes, their endurance paved the way for young upstarts like Jayden Lindo, whose NHL draft story was featured heavily in the documentary. All in all, attendees enjoyed a a thorough telling of a history of individuals not circulated in mainstream culture, giving a voice to everyone from different ethnic backgrounds who love hockey.