There Are Only 43 Players of Color in the NHL. Three of Them Play for the Red Wings — a Historic First

The legacy of African-American hockey players — and a pioneering program to get kids involved in the sport in Flint — will be honored by the NHL this weekend in Detroit.

National Hockey League
National Hockey League

Willie O’Ree became the NHL’s first Black Canadian player in a game back in 1958.

Now the league is recognizing the legacy of its black players with a mobile museum that’s making a stop in Detroit this weekend.

The NHL’s “Black Hockey History Tour” will visit 14 cities in total including two stops locally at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History and the Little Caesars Arena for the annual Hockeytown Winterfest. You can find a full schedule of events here.

African-Americans have a history with hockey that dates back to the late-19th century with the Coloured Hockey League — an all-black ice hockey league founded in Nova Scotia in 1895.

But less than 5% of the NHL is made up of players of color — that’s 43 players out of more than 700 in the league.

Three of those players — Givani Smith, Trevor Daley and Madison Bowey — currently play for the Detroit Red Wings. That’s a first in the history of the franchise.

“That’s a real milestone for the Red Wings and that organization,” says Kim Davis, the executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs at the NHL.

National Hockey League
National Hockey League

As part of the mobile museum’s stop in Detroit, the Red Wings will host three players from the Flint Inner-City Youth Hockey program along with program founder Rico Phillips, a former firefighter who received the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award at the 2019 NHL Awards. Phillips was honored for his ongoing efforts to bring hockey into the lives of disadvantaged youth in Flint.

Click the audio player above to hear the full conversation with Rico Phillips and Kim Davis about the role of African-American players in the NHL.

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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.