The Ambassadors (Part 1)

Fred B
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In just a few weeks, NHL regular season games are back!  I missed it, I love all sports and there’s nothing like the return of the hockey season.

As many of us know, the NHL each season in the month of February has a campaign known as “Hockey Is For Everyone” which showcases the diversity in the game. The idea does need better execution though.

When it comes to promoting diversity, with every team the NHL should be using women and men of colour as much as possible to truly make this mean something. Here at the Oilers Rig, I decided to take it upon myself to make a list of ambassador suggestions that have links to every franchise, some are active players and some are legends but all have important stories in the game.

A couple of teams have more than one name attached to them, some have a solo ambassador but all are deserving of being on here.

Without further ado, here are my selections for Hockey Is For Everyone Ambassadors for 2018-19.


Paul Kariya

He had style. He Had grace. He was the face of Anaheim hockey.

Paul Tetsuhiko Kariya helped to usher in a new era of the NHL in the mid-1990s along with Teemu Selanne on one of the more popular expansion teams in league history. Paul put up a 50 goal season in his sophomore year in the league along with two 100 point seasons and two Lady Byng Trophies in Ducks eggplant and teal.

Paul’s Japanese heritage was always something he was proud of and had the chance to take part in the first ever NHL games in Japan with the Ducks to kick off the 1997-98 season. Unfortunately, Paul’s chance to play in Japan at the Olympics wouldn’t happen due to a concussion but he would still be an inspiration for many Asian hockey players in Canada and overseas to get into the game.

Concussions would cut Paul’s career short after the 2009-10 season with the St Louis Blues. In 15 seasons Paul would put up 989 points and as many of us know Paul left the hockey world entirely before re-emerging in 2017. before his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame to the warmest of welcomes. Next month his #9 will be retired by the Ducks, an honour that no one can dispute that he rightfully deserves.


Georges Laraque 

#27 was one of the NHL’s most intimidating heavyweights and no matter where he played in the league his reputation as a fighter who would back down from no one.

Laraque was one of the more recognizable faces of colour in the league and to match his big fights with names such as Tie Domi and Bob Probert. he had a big personality that endeared himself across the league.

He’d only spend a season with the Wayne Gretzky coached Coyotes in 2006-07 but he’d become one of the first black players to suit up for the organization and would put up 22 points in 56 games.


Willie O’Ree And Anson Carter

If you thought I’d leave Willie O’Ree off this list I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

The first black man to skate in the NHL in 1957-58 has done so much more for the game beyond his 45 appearances in the league, as for over two decades he’s been the NHL’s director of Youth Development and has been able to get over 40,000 kids playing the sport in his role. That’s right. 40,000.

Without Willie O’Ree impact on and off the ice who knows where the growth of hockey may have gone among minorities.

Coming out of Michigan State, Carter was taken by the Quebec Nordiques in the now abolished 10th round of the 1992 draft but it would be with Boston where he’d make his NHL debut in 1996-97. In four seasons with the Bruins, Anson would put up three 40 point seasons, finishing second in team scoring in 1999-00 only behind another youngster in the form of Joe Thornton.

After a long career, Anson has now become one of the few black men in an analyst role in pro hockey for the NHL on NBC joining Kevin Weekes and David Amber who currently appear on air on NHL broadcasts as men of colour.


Val James and Tony McKegney  

The Sabres role in NHL history with both James and McKegney could have their own movies. In 1978-79, the Sabres gave McKegney a home after the WHA’s Birmingham Bulls illegally rescinded a contract offered to McKegney once the finals learned that the team was about to sign a black player. In Buffalo, McKegney would become one of the offensive leaders of the Sabres with four seasons of 50 or more points and two seasons of 30 or more goals.

In 1981-82, James would make history as the first African-American to play in the NHL by suiting up in seven games with the Sabres. James would go on to be a mainstay in the Sabres organization for many years with the AHL’s Rochester Americans as a fan favorite enforcer until 1985. In 1986-87 he would also become the first black man to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.


Jarome Iginla

Open up a Flames record book and it’s impossible to ignore #12.

Iginla is the all-time leader in points, goals, assists, and games played. In an era when winning was lean, Iginla was the face that gave fans in Calgary hope as he’d lead the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup final. In the 2004 playoffs, Iginla would lead the Flames in playoff scoring with 22 points.

Iginla was the NHL’s first true black non-goalie superstar in the game as he’d put up 625 goals to go along with 675 assists for 1300 points. Iginla would also win two Rocket Richard Trophies, the Art Ross Trophy, the Lester B Pearson Trophy, King Clancy Trophy and the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award.

Internationally, Jarome would step up in a big way as a key cog in Canada’s 2002 and 2010 Olympic Hockey Gold medal wins in Salt Lake and Vancouver.

Hockey in Calgary welcomed its arms to one of the games most important superstars in many ways and he repaid them in a way that not many could have ever imagined.


Fred Saskamoose 

The story of Fred Saskamoose is unlike any other in hockey.

A child of the horrible Canadian residential school system in Saskatchewan, he’d escape it to become a star in the Western Canadian Hockey League and in 1953-54 became the first Cree man (from the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation) to skate in an NHL game. Saskamoose would play 11 games with the Chicago Black Hawks but the legacy of Saskamoose would go far beyond his playing days.

Saskamoose would work back at home on Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation to build minor sports programs in the area and he also created the Northern Indian Hockey League before becoming the Chef of Sandy Lake Indian Band in 1980.

Sasakamoose has also been inducted into the Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame, Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame, Meadow Lake Wall of Fame, FSIN Circle of Honour and the Canadian Native Hockey Hall of Fame.

Earlier this year he would be named to the Order of Canada, the first First Nations NHL player to receive the honour.


Kevin Weekes 

2001-02 would be a magical time in North Carolina as their hockey team would see the first real taste of playoff success. The Carolina Hurricanes would make a run all the way to the Stanley Cup final, led by names such as Ron Francis, Sami Kappanen and Rod Brind’Amour. The goaltending during the run also did their part in the form of the Kevin Weekes-Arturs Irbe tandem.

Weekes, who was a mid-season pickup for Carolina and only played in two regular season games but would step up big time in their postseason. Kevin would relieve Irbe who had been struggling vs New Jersey and put up two shutouts against the Devils and slammed the door shut vs Montreal in their 2nd round series. In eight playoff games, Kevin’s 1.62 GAA and .949% save percentage were second in the league to only Ottawa’s Patrick Lalime.

Kevin would spend the next two seasons as the starter in Carolina (39 wins in his Carolina tenure) and would forever endear himself to the market for that first big playoff run.


Brandon Yip

Brandon Yip’s NHL tenure may have only spanned five seasons but upon making his debut with Colorado in 2009-10 he became the first Chinese-Canadian to suit up for the franchise. In three seasons with the Avalanche, he’d put up 41 points before stints in Nashville, Arizona and various minor league teams.

Currently, Yip is playing in the KHL with Kunlun Red Star in the KHL with the hopes of playing in the 2022 Olympics with the Chinese national team.


Seth Jones

The young blueliner of the Columbus Blue Jackets was one of the hottest prospects coming out of the 2013 NHL Draft class so hot that if you recall Jay Z was interested in Roc Nation representing him!

Coming out of Junior hockey he spent time with the US Development program in the USHL and the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, becoming a WHL All-Star in the 2012-13 season after putting up 56 points in 61 games.

Drafted by Nashville he’d have two 20 point seasons on the backend as one of the first black American players intended for stardom in the league. In the 2015-16 offseason he’d be traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and in 2017-18 put up his first 50 point season. 2017-18 also marked his second straight trip to the NHL All-Star game as a member of the Metropolitan Division.


Paul Jerrard

Coaching; It’s been one of the final frontiers at the professional level for people of colour but Paul Jerrard broke through this final barrier.

A 1983 draft pick of the New York Rangers, he would eventually end up making his NHL debut with the Minnesota North Stars in 1988-89, before stops in the AHL and IHL for the next seven years.

In 1992-93 he would become a player-assistant coach with the Kalamazoo Wings in the IHL and by 1997 after his playing days came to an end he would begin a coaching tenure at the NCAA level with Lake Superior University.

In 2002-03 he would become an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the first black man to join an NHL coaching staff.

After spending time with Colorado’s AHL team in Hershey, he returned to the Stars organization in 2006 to work with the Iowa Stars/Chops and Texas Stars before coaching stops with the  Vancouver Canucks organization and Calgary Flames.

Currently, Paul is the assistant coach for the Omaha Mavericks in the NCAA.


Trevor Daley

Trevor Daley has been one of the most steady blueliners in the league over his 14-year career with Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. The two time Stanley Cup champion is on the verge of 1000 games played in his career and has put up 294 points.

For those who don’t know, early in his career while he was a member of the Sudbury Wolves, his head coach and GM John Vanbiesbrouck infamously called him the N-word in the 2002-03 season. Daley would quit the team but returned after Vanbiesrouck stepped down from both roles.

Daley’s career has been much more than just that as in his career he became one of the staples for the backend on Dallas and now assumes a role as one of the veterans on the blueline of a young Red Wings team. Daley also appeared in the hockey documentary, Soul On Ice in 2016, in which his journey to the NHL was profiled among other prominent black hockey players.


Grant Fuhr, Pokey Reddick, Fred Braithwaite, Joaquin Gage, and Peter Ing.

You may be wondering why so many ambassadors for the Oilers? Why all goalies?

To me, it was very important to show love to the fact that the Oilers have had the most goalies of colour. Fuhr would be the iconic goalie that would step up with the clutch saves when the Oilers of the 80s needed it the most, on his way to Five Stanley Cups, a Vezina and six All-Star Game appearances. Grant also to this day still is the Oilers all-time leader in regular season wins with 226.

Reddick’s time with the Oilers was brief but he put up five wins in 1989-90 after a very successful tenure in Winnipeg.

Braithwaite, Gage, and Ing would get cracks during the lean times of the 1990s  as starting netminders for the post-dynasty Oilers (Braithwaite among the bunch would truly shine as a starter with their provincial rivals in Calgary) and while the wins were hard to come by their roles in increasing diversity in the NHL need to be remembered.

I hope you enjoyed the opener of this, the second and final part will come next week.

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