Black Hockey Players Take Center Ice In “Soul On Ice” Documentary

First-time filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason explores the history, legacy and impact of Black hockey players on the National Hockey League and beyond via the 2016 documentary, which is part of a virtual screening at Cleary University this Thursday.

Growing up as a Black kid in Toronto in the late 1970s, documentary filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason didn’t see a lot of kids that looked like him playing Canada’s national pastime — ice hockey.

“When I was coming up in public school, the majority of my friends were white,” says Mason. “I did what they did. We (rode) BMX bikes. We listened to heavy metal. We played hockey.”

Courtesy of Damon Kwame Mason
Courtesy of Damon Kwame Mason

As Mason got older, however, that early acceptance of his white friends on the ice turned into negative racial stereotypes that have plagued the sport both recreationally and professionally.

“As I’m getting older, my white friends would be like, ‘Black people don’t watch hockey. It’s too cold. Your ankles are too small,’” says Mason. “All my black friends were like, ‘yo, we’re not going to play no hockey — that’s a white boy sport.’”

As a lifelong hockey fan, Mason was caught in the middle. He became a closeted hockey fan, avoiding playing or talking about the sport with his friends.

“For me personally, I needed to find my identity. I needed to be around my Black friends just to find my place and my world,” says Mason, who found solace in the burgeoning hip-hop culture. “The only sad thing about that is it took hockey and made it a guilty pleasure.”

Explore diversity in sports with WDET’s CultureShift:

Years later, as Mason was working as a radio personality, he attended a Calgary Flames game on a whim. 

“I remember looking at their captain and saying, ‘This guy is phenomenal. Who’s that?’” says Mason. “I pointed out who that was because the player was Black.”

That player was six-time NHL All-Star Jarome Iginla, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2020. He’s only the fourth Black player to receive the honor.

It was a turning point for Mason, who says he became “unapologetic” for his love of hockey after watching Iginla play. 

“That was the first time I thought about making the film,” says Mason. “I wanted more people of color to understand that this is such a great game. You don’t know what you’re missing.

Mason began working on the documentary “Soul On Ice: Past, Present and Future” around 2012. It was released in 2016, winning an audience choice award among documentary features at the Edmonton International Film Festival ahead of its release.

Click the audio player to hear the full interview with director Damon Kwame Mason about his “Soul On Ice” documentary:

Watch a trailer for “Soul On Ice” below:

The documentary traces the history of Black players in ice hockey to the Coloured Hockey League in the 19th century to the impact of players of color in the NHL today. It’s available to stream via streaming platforms like Amazon Prime and iTunes.

Mason says the history of the Coloured Hockey League inspired him to take on the documentary, which is his first as a filmmaker.

“When I discovered (the Coloured Hockey League), I was older. Being a hockey fan throughout my life and living in a country that proclaims to be the hockey capital of the world… no one ever talked about this,” says Mason. “As a country, you never talked about a hockey league, which was the first established organized sports league for Blacks? If I don’t know about this, how many people don’t know about this? I thought this would be a great story to tell along with where we are today and where we’re going to go in the future.”

Documentary filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason will host a free virtual screening and discussion of “Soul On Ice” with Cleary University on Thursday, February 25th at 3 p.m. Participants can join virtually. 

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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" 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.