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Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey Paperback – January 25, 2005
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Mainly, the book collects biographical information & creates portraits of many of the game's black players. Some chapters are devoted to a single player, e.g. Jarome Iginla or Willie O'Ree (the first black man to play in the NHL). Other chapters focus on players with a common thread, e.g. black goaltenders. The book is rounded out by brief looks at the opportunities (or lack thereof) for coaching & organizational positions for blacks, and at youth & diversity programs that aim to increase access to hockey for minorities.
I enjoyed reading the players' stories, how they have handled racism in their careers, and about their passion for the game. Particularly good were the chapters about early players like Herb Carnegie, who never made it to the NHL, and those who first broke the color barrier. Most of the men profiled in the book have encountered overt racism along their way to becoming elite hockey players. In some cases, the racism was totally outrageous and shockingly premeditated. Fans throwing bananas or chicken bones on the ice. The organist at an opposing team's arena leading the crowd in singing racist taunts. The mind boggles.
However, a few players featured in the book faced hardly any racially-motivated opposition to pursuing hockey, while others experienced much more adversity. Here is where the book falls short of what I would have hoped for. Why would this be? Were there circumstances that made some towns or youth leagues more accepting? Were there significant social factors or immigration patterns that had an effect? The reader is left wondering. The book is also begging for a thoughtful treatment of the fact that <2% of Canadians are of African or Carribean etc. descent, which would obviously be a factor limiting the total # of hockey-playing blacks and contributing to racism generally.
Also annoying was the consistently faux turgid and/or florid sportswriter's prose. There were countless references to players benefiting because their predecessors "smoothed the ice" for them. And check out this groan-inducing passage that opens the chapter about youth programs for minorities:
"It would be easy to mistake the group's name for a dreadful situation comedy on the television network, UPN. But Ice Hockey In Harlem only sounds like a program that could follow `Homeboys In Outer Space' on a fledgling network's prime-time schedule. Fortunately, though, Ice Hockey In Harlem is a program worthy of attention."
Geez. Get an editor.
Bottom line: Barely Recommended. I learned things, so I can't condemn it outright. Only for hockey fans with low expectations.
Bonafide NHL candidates like Herbie Carnegie and Manny McIntyre were denied entry into the NHL simply because they were black...yet they were permitted to play for the Quebec Aces along with Jean Beliveau...and excelled.
Read about Willie O'Ree becoming the first black to play in the NHL with the Boston Bruins. Enduring the insults and indignites just to professionally compete in the game of hockey, O'Ree was hockey's version of Jackie Robinson.
Today, thanks to Carnegie and O'Ree, we can view black players like Jarome Iginla leading Calgary's Stanley Cup quest, as one of the major stars of the 21st century.
Carnegie, McIntyre, O'Ree and countless others (meticulously outlined in Harris' text), clearly led the way for today's Iginla, Anson Carter and Nathan Robinson...
Cecil Harris provides a timely snapshot of a welome addition to the NHL, the black professional hockey player competing at the highest level as skilled players.