NHL

NHL to celebrate Black History Month for 1st time

The NHL will celebrate Black History Month for the first time, shifting its focus in February from its wide-ranging "Hockey Is For Everyone" campaign to emphasize racial diversity in the sport.

P.K. Subban, Seth Jones among several black stars to be featured in video specials this month

Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O'Ree, left, was the first African-American hockey player in the NHL. The NHL will celebrate Black History Month for the first time this February. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

The NHL will celebrate Black History Month for the first time, shifting its focus in February from its wide-ranging "Hockey Is For Everyone" campaign to emphasize racial diversity in the sport.

The league and NHL Players' Association will announce the joint initiative Friday morning. It includes a travelling mobile museum devoted to the history of minorities in hockey predating Willie O'Ree breaking the colour barrier in 1958 and going up to the present day. The museum will debut outside Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday.

As part of this, "Hockey Is For Everyone" is expanding to year-round. March will be gender-equality month, and the plan is to add acknowledgement of Hispanic heritage and "First Nations" next season.

There are roughly 20 black players currently on NHL rosters, though executive vice-president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs Kim Davis said there is strong minority representation at youth levels.

"I think a focus like this during Black History Month will affirm those many kids of colour that are already playing our game," Davis said. "I think we often underestimate the pipeline of talent that is already involved in our game."

USA Hockey only recently began collecting data on player participation by race, so it will take some time to show if the sport that is predominantly white at its highest levels is making inroads. Davis added that another aim is to educate all fans of the contributions of non-white players during hockey's history.

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O'Ree was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in November — the third black player in hockey's exclusive club, joining Edmonton Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr and Canadian women's national team captain Angela James.

WATCH | Willie O'Ree elected to Hall of Fame:

O'Ree will be honoured alongside Martin Brodeur, Jayna Hefford, Martin St. Louis, Alexander Yakushev and Gary Bettman. 2:16

O'Ree, who has worked since 1996 as NHL diversity ambassador and director of youth development, says he's proud the league is celebrating black history and has seen progress in more kids playing hockey over his two decades on the job.

The 82-year-old from Fredricton had a long career in the minors, played only 45 games in the NHL, but returned to the fold in 1996 as an ambassador.

Blue Jackets defenceman Seth Jones, one of several black stars who will be the subject of video specials this month, said "important conversations and perspectives will be shared as part of the Black History Month celebration."

Predators defenceman P.K. Subban, Sharks forward Evander Kane, Fuhr and James will also be among those featured.

With files from The Canadian Press