Access Granted: Hockey Is For Everyone

Published by Marcus Vanderberg on Monday, March 16, 2009 at 7:39 pm.

NHL Trio

Quick: Name one NHL player not named Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.

Better yet, name a Black NHL player.

The National Hockey League is a sport that might not be on your radar but thanks to Hockey is For Everyone, more minorities are being exposed to professional hockey.

While hockey is a way of life in Canada, it has struggled to gain popularity in the United States after the devastating work stoppage during the 2004-05 season.

And with the NBA and NFL reaching new heights of popularity and MLB rebounding after a work stoppage of their own, it’s easy to see why the NHL is at the bottom of the “Big 4.”

But of the four sports, you won’t find a more exciting sport to watch in person than hockey.

If you weren’t able to name Kevin Weekes, Anthony & Chris Stewart or nearly the other dozen or so Black players in the league, don’t feel bad. recently had the opportunity to chat with the veteran New Jersey Devils goalie and two of the league’s rising stars about how they got involved in hockey and steps the bond between Black players in the NHL.

On how they got involved in hockey:

Anthony Stewart, Florida Panthers:

I started off when I was 4. I got some equipment from my cousin who played semi-pro hockey. On top of that, just watching CBC every Saturday night, watching the Canadians and the Leafs. Despite my economic issues, I had a lot of support from the community and a lot of families pitching in when I needed new equipment.

Chris Stewart, Colorado Avalanche:

Basically, I took the same path as my brother. He got me a tryout in the Ontario League and I played there for three years and I was drafted to Colorado. I played my first year as a pro in Cleveland in the American League and this year I was fortunate enough to be with the big club.

Kevin Weekes, New Jersey Devils:

I grew up in the Toronto area and started playing when I was 6. My cousin played so I followed him. I knew right away that I wanted to be a goalie in the NHL. That was my dream and my goal. I played for the same minor hockey organization for nine years in AAA. I played in the OHL for two years. I was drafted by the Florida Panthers and ended up playing in the minors for two full years and was called up to the Panthers in 1996-97.

On the impact of hockey in Canada:

Kevin Weekes, New Jersey Devils:

A majority of us that grew up playing minor hockey in Canada but Toronto specifically. A majority of the Black players in the league are Caribbean so we are of West Indian/Black descent. Due to the fact that we were born and or raised in Canada, hockey is pretty much the be-all end-all in terms of sports.  That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Hockey is the main sport but we have seen in the last few years other athletes coming from Canada and playing in other sports such s Steve Nash and Jamaal Magloire in the NBA and Justin Morneau in baseball. For the main part, athletics in Canada revolves around hockey. The minor hockey culture in Canada is very prominent in the sports scene. It’s a family affair and it’s something your accustomed to at 5-6 years-old.

On the other sports they were involved in besides hockey:

Anthony Stewart, Florida Panthers: 

My brother and I both played soccer growing up in the summer. As I got older, I began playing football in high school. At the time, I was a little bigger and it was the thing to do in high school. All my buddies were playing football but it was such a short season that it wasn’t year-round like hockey. Hockey was where my heart was.

On who they followed growing up:

Anthony Stewart, Florida Panthers:  

When I was younger, I looked up to a guy like Doug Gilmour of Toronto but as I got older, I would say more towards a Jarome Iginla. I try to model my game after him and he’s a great competitor on the ice. He’s been very successful in the game the last 5-6 years.

Chris Stewart, Colorado Avalanche: 

I was a big Mario Lemieux fan. Mats Sundin also – - a big centerman type with pretty polished hands and a smooth skater. I wear the #13 after him and he’s a class act on and off the ice so he’s an inspiration for sure.

Kevin Weekes, New Jersey Devils:

I’m a goalie freak for obvious reasons but for me, there were a lot of guys. Probably most significant if I had to pick one was Grant Fuhr. For the career he had and he’s a hall of famer and one of the best of all time.  As a goalie, I identified with him a lot. He paved the way for me to be here in this position today. Pokey Reddick played a little bit at that time and then Freddie Brathwaite got to play. Those guys have created a path to where I am today.

On the bond between Black NHL players:

Kevin Weekes, New Jersey Devils: 

In New Jersey, there is three of us; Bryce Salvador, Johnny Oduya and myself. Having two other brothers on the team makes a big difference. I think that shows how far our sport has come in terms of its evolution. It says a lot about the direction we are going in. In the bigger picture, a lot of us have a lot of common history. A lot us know each other and a majority of us are from the Toronto area. A couple of guys are from Western Canada and Johnny Oduya is from Sweeden. Our parents are typically from the West Indies and a lot of us know each other from home.

On being brothers in the NHL:

Anthony Stewart, Florida Panthers:   

We had the privilege of playing with each other. I was playing the role model to him and trying to show him what it was like since I had two years experience in the OHL. Seeing him succeed is the ultimate goal and I’m happy for hm. We haven’t played each other yet … that’s the ultimate goal just to see him on the ice with me and hopefully not knock heads too much.

Chris Stewart, Colorado Avalanche:

A guy like my brother paved the way and I learned from his mistakes. I owe a whole lot to him and a guy like Weekes too, who went out of his way to look out for the up and coming players.

Check back later this week for Part II of our conversation with Kevin Weekes and the Stewart brothers.

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Great story, “brothers looking out for brothers”. In the next ten years we will be a dominant force in this sport just like baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, and football. Nascar ain’t far behind…..

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