Friday, October 28, 2016

The All-Time Black Hockey Team

The World Cup of Hockey was recently completed, and like I hoped, the free thinking that decided which teams would participate paid off.

It included most of the national teams we are used to seeing at the top of international tournaments -- namely, Canada, the USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic -- but the NHL got creative by adding a Team Europe and Team North America to the mix. The former consisted of players from European countries not named above, and the latter was a youngsters squad comprised only of Canadians and Americans age 23 or younger (three of its players are still in their teens).

Team Europe made it all the way to the final before falling to Canada. Team North America made waves by clobbering Finland and knocking off Sweden in OT. Chalk two up for thinking out of the box.

Part of me wanted to welcome the World Cup by writing blog posts about what I consider to be each country's all-time national team, putting players from different generations on the same roster. I never got around to that, but in the wake of the World Cup, and while enjoying the start of the NHL season, an out-of-the-box idea has risen in my mind: Why not name an all-time black hockey team?

Hockey has long been considered a white sport and many people today still think of it that way. But there are quite a few black players in the NHL right now, and black players made a significant impact on the game even before "right now." As far as I know, no one has ever compiled an all-time black roster, so here I am to do the job, in all my white-assed glory!

Fyi, for the purposes of this post I am going to treat black and biracial as one and the same. I have neither the time nor worldview to put any stock into notions of "racial purity" or "one drop" rules, regardless of which race I'm talking about. In any event, here goes:

Center  -  Nathan LaFayette
A third-round pick in 1991, LaFayette went on to play NHL hockey for six seasons, most notably for the Vancouver Canucks and LA Kings, in a career cut short by injury. His star shone brightest in the 1994 playoffs when he topped the league with a plus/minus of +13, tallying 9 post-season points to help guide Vancouver all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Unfortunately for him and Canucks fans, they lost Game Seven to the Mark Messier-led New York Rangers.

Right Wing  -  Jarome Iginla
Born in Canada to a Nigerian father and American mother, Jarome Iginla made his NHL debut in 1996 and remains in the league to this day, still playing well and drawing attention from opposing defenses.

A powerful skater with a blistering shot and nose for getting to the puck, he is one of only 19 players in the NHL's long history to score more than 600 goals. His to-date tally of 612 puts him ahead of such luminaries as Bobby Hull, Rocket Richard, Mike Bossy, and Guy LaFleur... The 1,095 points he rang up during his time in Calgary (525 goals + 570 assists) make him the top points producer in Flames history, by a whopping margin of 265 more than second place Theo Fleury... Plus he shows no signs of stopping, seeing as how he's shooting above 14% (better than his career average) so far this season.

Left Wing  -  Tony McKegney
McKegney's NHL career spanned from 1978 to 1991, during which he was known for Steady Eddie dependability in an era remembered more for outrageous personalities and gaudy stats. McKegney had nine seasons of 20+ goals, including three of 30+. His best season was 1987-88, when he bagged 40 goals and dished out 38 assists; the resulting 78 points stood for 14 years as the highest-scoring season by a black player, until Iginla broke it by racking up 96 (52 + 44) in 2001-2002. Everyone who has ever coached sports would give his right arm to have someone like McKegney on his roster.

Defense  -  Johnny Oduya
When you think about places to look for black athletes, you don't think of Stockholm, Sweden, but Johnny Oduya is living proof that you shouldn't assume they aren't there (and come to think of it, if you don't mind me sliding back to my 1980's sexual fantasies, the steamy Neneh Cherry is from Stockholm too!).

A solid two-way defenseman, Oduya is currently in his tenth NHL season and anchoring the Dallas blue line, but is best known for his stellar stint in Chicago that saw him play a key role in winning two Stanley Cup championships. In 2013, it was he who notched the assist on the Cup-winning goal against Boston with 59 seconds remaining in Game Six.

Side note:  Oduya's older brother Fredrik was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 1993. Although Fredrik never cracked an NHL roster, he played professionally for eight years in the AHL, Sweden, and UK before dying in a motorcycle accident in this interestingly named town.

Defense  -  P.K. Subban
It seems a little strange to include a player on this roster who is only 27 and has yet to reach his peak, but then again, we're talking about P.K.! He has arguably the biggest and most charismatic personality of anybody in the NHL, which makes some people love him and some people hate him -- but most importantly, his game matches his personality.

A Norris Trophy winner (defenseman of  the year) and two-time All-Star, Subban patrols the blue line with authority and has a rocket of a shot that causes some people to accuse him of neglecting his defensive duties -- which would be a problem if it was true, but I've watched him play a lot of hockey and my eyeballs tell me it's not true.

Montreal's fans are undoubtedly the most demanding on Earth and arguably the most knowledgeable on Earth, and most of them responded with outrage when Subban was traded to Nashville in the offseason. That should tell you all you need to know.

Goaltender  -  Grant Fuhr
He has five Stanley Cup rings (all of them earned as a starter, although injury sidelined him during the playoffs for one of the five) and Wayne Gretzky has repeatedly called him the greatest goalie to ever play the game. As is true of all greats, he was at his best in the playoffs, which resulted in him being known as the best clutch goalie of the 1980's.

In addition to his status as a five-time Stanley Cup winner, Fuhr backstopped Team Canada to a pair of Canada Cup titles over the Soviets; was a six-time All-Star; and won both the Vezina and Jennings trophies... and he was the first black player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

That's the first line. I wanted to include my second line, but this post is already long so I'll save that for another time.

No comments: