Soul on Ice: Blacks in the National Hockey League
AS a goalie, Grant Fuhr is simply awesome. Armed with a helmet. mask, an oversize stick and an array of pads, he guards the net, blocking most of the shots hurled at him by opposing players. By all accounts, he is the world's best at his position-and one of the few Blacks in the game of professional ice hockey.
Off the ice, Fuhr, Tony McKegney, Ray Neufeld and Eldon (Pokey) Reddick aren't exactly the most recognized figures in professional sports. But, these four athletes are unique; they are the only Blacks currently playing in the National Hockey League.
Ice hockey, a fast-paced and often rough sport, originated in Canada and has become popular in some parts of the United States. Still many Blacks see it as a largely lily-White" sport. "On the road, people will see me with other players, and they'll guess we're a football team or possibly a baseball team," says McKegney, an 11-year veteran of the NHL and a star with the St. Louis Blues. "They don't think hockey first because they don't associate Blacks with the sport."
Without a lucrative network television contract and widespread appeal in the United States, the National Hockey league pays lower salaries than other major sports. The average NHL salary is $160,000, according to a league spokesman.
To date, the number of Blacks who have played in the NHL can be counted on both hands. Willie O'Ree became the first Black to play in the league in 1957. He played with the Boston Bruins for two seasons. Blacks would not play professional ice hockey for the next ten years until the Washington Capitals signed Mike Marson and Bill Riley. …