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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Icecats only black player mentored by pioneer

    Icecats center Brandon Robinson, who is currently the only black athlete on the club hockey team, sits with his stick in hand. Robinson, a sophomore, is the fourth black member of the team in Icecats history, according to head coach Leo Golembiewski.
    Icecats center Brandon Robinson, who is currently the only black athlete on the club hockey team, sits with his stick in hand. Robinson, a sophomore, is the fourth black member of the team in Icecats’ history, according to head coach Leo Golembiewski.

    Since the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington in 1946 and Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, America’s two major sports have seen a fairly swift integration of black athletes.

    But for hockey, that process has come much more slowly.

    Willie O’Ree became the NHL’s first black player on Jan. 8, 1958, remaining the league’s only black player until 1964, and the sport continues to search for more diversity. Seventeen blacks played in the NHL in 2004.

    Hockey’s racial homogeny is also reflected in Arizona’s men’s club team. Sophomore Brandon Robinson is the only black Icecats player and one of four to suit up for the team in 27 seasons, said head coach Leo Golembiewski.

    “”It’s obviously an expensive sport,”” said Robinson, a La Mesa, Calif., native. “”But I think as rinks open up and it becomes easier for people to play, I think that will lead to more minorities playing the sport.””

    Robinson picked up the sport at age 6 after watching it on television with his parents.

    “”We signed him up for some ice skating classes, and he just took off with it,”” said Robinson’s father, Fred.

    Robinson has also been mentored by O’Ree, a friend of his youth hockey coach.

    When Robinson was 12, O’Ree came to one of his games; the two spoke afterward and hit it off. They have been friends ever since and talk a few times a month.

    “”Willie has really been a guy Brandon has looked up to,”” Fred said. “”I think we’re really fortunate that we know someone who can pass that type of knowledge on to him.””

    O’Ree played 43 games in the NHL for the Boston Bruins but did it while 95 percent blind in his right eye and dealt with racism from players and fans alike.

    “”With basketball, tennis, football, etcetera, you can just go in the back lot and play, but with hockey you need ice to play. There wasn’t much availability of ice, so naturally, kids turned to other sports,”” O’Ree said. “”But now with more rinks being made around the country you’re going to give these players of color the choice to play (hockey) or not.””

    O’Ree is part of the NHL’s diversity program, which works to give young minority players the opportunity to play the game.

    “”We’ve come a long way since I’ve played, but you’re still going to occasionally hear a few racist remarks,”” O’Ree said. “”But with fines (in the NHL), people are thinking twice.””

    Even though O’Ree played in a much more hostile environment, Robinson has also dealt with his share of problems.

    “”I had a time when an opponent threw a (racial) slur at me, but my teammates quickly stepped up for me,”” Robinson said. “”It was nice to see that they had my back.””

    Golembiewski said hockey doesn’t have any underlying racism, but that it’s more a matter of exposure and affordability.

    “”I don’t judge anything other than a player’s ability,”” Golembiewski said. “”It doesn’t matter what a player’s ethnicity is. He just has to be able to play.””

    Robinson, who scored four goals in the Icecats’ season-ending series against New Mexico, said that hockey has enabled him to travel to places he never would have visited if he weren’t playing.

    “”As a kid from San Diego playing hockey, I’ve been able to travel all over the U.S. and Canada,”” Robinson said. “”I’ve been able to meet kids I would have never met otherwise, and those kids have become my best friends.

    “”That opportunity isn’t offered in other sports unless you’re (at) a high level.””

    Robinson also relishes the opportunity to help spread the sport of hockey to younger generations.

    “”Just being able to have them look up to me, and being able to relate to me because we’re both African-American and look up to me in the sport is something I think is a real privilege for me,”” he said.

    New book suggests NHL roots in all-black league

    Recently, George and Darril Fosty released “”Black Ice,”” a book that has uncovered evidence of an all-black hockey league, the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, that helped transform hockey into its modern form.

    The authors claim the NHL’s fast-paced style can be traced to the CHL, which dates back to 1895. The book credits the league with introducing the slap shot and goalies going to their knees to stop the puck.

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