Making their mark
by Lucas Aykroyd|29 AUG 2020
Canada’s Akil Thomas celebrates with his teammate Connor McMichael after scoring the 2020 World Junior gold medal-winning goal against Russia.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Now is the time.

With an important conversation about representation, inclusion, and anti-racism taking place worldwide, it’s timely to spotlight positive examples of players of colour who have made international hockey history.

These talented individuals persevered and achieved success despite obstacles that others did not have to face. The NHL has featured fewer than 100 black players in its 103-year history. That’s just one indicator that much progress remains to be made in terms of combating racial inequities, both in the sports world and beyond.

For now, here are 10 players of colour who shone in international hockey.

1) Bellemare Lifts France

At the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus, nobody foresaw France upsetting Canada on Day One. Dating back to 1931, Les Bleus had only beaten the motherland of hockey once before, a 4-1 shocker in Gavle, Sweden at the 1995 Worlds. And that tournament did not include NHLers due to the altered schedule after the league’s first lockout.

However, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare stepped up for the French to make 21st-century history. In a see-saw 3-2 win, the veteran forward scored the deciding shootout goal, going high to the stick side on Canadian netminder James Reimer. For Bellemare, it was another 2014 highlight after winning his second straight SHL title with Skelleftea.

Now a six-season NHL veteran with three different clubs, Bellemare was part of a memorable 2018 run to the Stanley Cup final with the Vegas Golden Knights.
French players Stephane Da Costa, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Cristobal Huet and Baptiste Amar sing to La Marseillaise after a French win at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images

2) Carter Puts Canada on Top of the World

Close to 10 minutes. That’s how long it took for officials at Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena to video-review Anson Carter’s overtime wraparound goal on Sweden’s Mikael Tellqvist in the 2003 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship final. It felt like an eternity. When Czech referee Vladimir Sindler signaled that the puck was in, the Canadian celebration was on.

Then 29, Carter, the Toronto-raised son of immigrants from Barbados, had also played an important role on the golden 1994 World Junior and 1997 World Championship teams. Yet nothing tops scoring a championship-winning goal in OT. Thus, when we reminisce about 2003, the skillful right winger’s name comes to mind ahead of Canadian tournament all-stars such as Sean Burke, Jay Bouwmeester, and Dany Heatley.

Carter retired from hockey in 2008 after a 674-game NHL career. That included a 33-goal campaign in 2005/06 in Vancouver, where he played with the Sedin twins.
Canada’s Anson Carter celebrates with the gold medal after scoring the game-winning goal of the final in the 2003 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Pekka Mononen / Europhoto

3) Dawes Lights Up World Juniors

In 2004, Nigel Dawes quietly became the first player of colour to lead the World Juniors in goals (6) and points (11). He tied Canadian teammate Anthony Stewart, who is also black, in the latter category. Dawes was not named to the tournament all-star team, and the Kootenay Ice sniper’s feats were overshadowed by Canada’s dramatic 4-3 loss to the U.S. in the gold medal game, as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury put the winning goal into his own net off defenceman Braydon Coburn.

Yet Dawes wasn’t done internationally. He added six points in 2005 en route to gold as a member of Canada’s most dominant World Junior team ever, which also had Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry.

After playing 212 NHL games with five clubs, Dawes morphed into a KHL superstar. His 35 goals for Barys Astana (now Nur-Sultan) in 2017/18 led the league, and at age 35, he has played in six straight KHL All-Star Games. The Canadian of Jamaican descent has represented Kazakhstan in IIHF competition since 2016, including that year’s Worlds.
Canada’s Nigel Dawes skates with the during the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Dave Sandford

4) Fuhr Holds Off Soviets

In Gretzky to Lemieux: The Story of the 1987 Canada Cup, writer Ed Willes describes Grant Fuhr as “the greatest money goalie of his generation, a keeper whose performance rose in direct proportion to the pressure of the moment.” A five-time Stanley Cup champion with the Edmonton Oilers, this acrobatic native of Spruce Grove, Alberta played all nine games for coach Mike Keenan at that Canada Cup, including the best-of-three finals against the Soviet Union.

It was unforgettable run-and-gun 1980s hockey, with each game ending 6-5. In Game Two, when the Soviets could have wrapped up the series in the first overtime, Fuhr robbed future IIHF Hall of Famer Vladimir Krutov on back-to-back chances. That paved the way for Mario Lemieux’s famous winning goals in both Game Two and Game Three.

Fuhr, a 2003 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, also emerged triumphant at the 1984 Canada Cup, and added a silver medal at the 1989 Worlds in Sweden.
Canadian goaltender Grant Fuhr makes a stick save during 1987 Canada Cup game against Sweden.
photo: Paul Bereswill / Hockey Hall of Fame

5) Iginla Owns the Olympics

When Jarome Iginla got a phone message from Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky, offering him a late invite to participate in the summer training camp for the 2002 Olympics, the 24-year-old Calgary Flames power forward at first assumed it was a joke by teammate Marc Savard.

However, other national teams certainly weren’t laughing as Iginla, a 1996 World Junior and 1997 Worlds champ, flourished on a line with Joe Sakic and Simon Gagne in Salt Lake City. “Iggy” scored twice in the 5-2 win over the host Americans that gave Canada its first Winter Games gold in 50 years. He was the first black man ever to win a Winter Olympic gold medal. It was a tremendous feat for the son of Elvis Iginla. The elder Iginla had emigrated to Canada from Nigeria at age 19. 

Returning with the next two Olympic teams, Iginla came up huge again in Vancouver in 2010. Not only did the right winger lead the Games with five goals, but he also set up Sidney Crosby’s historic “Golden Goal” at 7:40 of overtime as Canada edged the U.S. 3-2. He would retire at age 41 with 1,300 career points in 1,554 NHL games, which ranks him 34th and 14th all-time in those categories respectively. He is part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s class of 2020.
Jarome Iginla won two Olympic gold medals with Canada and became the first black man to win gold at Winter Olympics in 2002.
photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

6) James Golden at First Women’s Worlds

In 1990, Angela James wasn’t focused on Team Canada’s decision to wear pink uniforms at the inaugural IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Ottawa. Instead, the explosive forward focused on putting the puck in the net. Her single-tournament record of 11 goals has only been equalled by the U.S.’s Cindy Curley (1990) and Krissy Wendell (2000).

Long-time Canadian captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall stated: “There was no one who could take the game over like Ang. She was, I think, the first superstar of women’s hockey.” Thus, it was a huge shock when Canadian coach Shannon Miller unexpectedly cut James prior to the 1998 Olympics. The move backfired, as Canada lost twice to the Americans and settled for silver in that historic tournament in Nagano, Japan.

When the IIHF celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008 in Quebec City, James joined Cammi Granato and Geraldine Heaney in the first group of women inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame. The following year, the Toronto suburb of North York named an arena after this four-time world champion.
Angela James was among the first women to be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2008.
photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

7) Stewart Steps Up on Junior Stage

While Anthony Stewart totalled 71 points in 262 career NHL games with Florida, Atlanta, and Carolina, Canadian fans may remember the tall winger most fondly for his teenage achievements in IIHF competition.

Stewart wowed NHL scouts in Yaroslavl, Russia in 2003. The Kingston Frontenacs ace became the first player of colour to lead the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in goals, scoring six times in seven games as Canada won gold. Florida drafted him 25th overall in June.

That laid the groundwork for Stewart to star at the next two World Juniors. After his team-leading 11 points on the 2004 silver-medal squad, he added four points en route to gold in 2005. Now retired, Stewart is bolstering his reputation as a hockey TV analyst at age 35.
Canada’s Anthony Stewart battles in front of the Slovak net during the gold medal game of the 2003 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
photo: IIHF Archive

8) Subban’s U20 Sequel Is Even Better

Few hockey observers predicted that P.K. Subban would blossom into a Norris Trophy winner (2013). He was the 14th defenceman taken in the 2007 NHL Draft (43rd overall to Montreal). The son of a Jamaican father and Montserratian mother got limited opportunities at his first World Juniors in 2008. Although Canada won the gold medal in the Czech Republic, Subban wound up with the same number of points as stay-at-home blueliner Luke Schenn (zero).

That changed dramatically when Subban played for Pat Quinn at the 2009 World Juniors in Ottawa. Known for his spectacular spinoramas and ability to rush the puck, the Belleville Bulls captain notched nine points and was named a tournament all-star. He chipped in three assists in the wild 7-4 New Year’s Eve win over the Americans.

Since his Norris Trophy year, Subban’s highlights include his 2014 Olympic gold medal and 2017 run to the Stanley Cup final with Nashville. The 31-year-old has earned kudos for his remarkable generosity off the ice, such as a $10-million donation to the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
P.K. Subban poses with the trophy after winning the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship on home ice in Ottawa with Team Canada.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

9) Thomas Brings Quality Over Quantity

International hockey fans have had less to cheer about than usual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So what Canada’s Akil Thomas did in the World Junior gold medal game against Russia looms even larger than normal. 

Getting the winner against your country’s historic archrival is always magical. Yet as this thriller wore on in Ostrava, Czech Republic, the Niagara IceDogs veteran, who had turned 20 three days earlier, seemed like an unlikely hero. With the Russians up 3-1 with under 12 minutes to play, coach Dale Hunter had gone to three lines, and Thomas had played less than five minutes.

But Canada came roaring back to make it 3-3. Thomas hit the ice late in the third period, exploded through the Russian defence, eluded goalie Amir Miftakhov’s pokecheck, and scored on a spectacular backhander with 3:58 left. It was his first goal of the tournament. Whatever the future holds for this Los Angeles prospect, his place in Canadian hockey history is assured.
Interview Akil Thomas (CAN)
Here speaks the goal scorer of the gold-winning goal: Akil Thomas shares the biggest moment of his career.
CAN 05 JAN 2020

10) Lowe Makes His Mark in 1984

Darren Lowe epitomizes the phrase, “Be true to your school.” Not only did the Toronto-born right winger spend four years playing for the University of Toronto in the 1980s, but he also coached there from 1992 to 2017. But Lowe’s biggest score of all was becoming the first black hockey player ever to represent Canada at the Olympics.

In 1984, he totalled two goals and an assist in Sarajevo under head coach Dave King. Lowe played an important role in the opening 4-2 win over the U.S., as his line with future NHLers Carey Wilson and Pat Flatley figured in all four Canadian goals. In a 4-2 victory over Finland, one of Lowe’s nicest plays was a 2-on-1 rush with Kirk Muller that he finished off with a high backhander past goalie Kari Takko.

Even though Canada finished fourth on Yugoslav ice, it was an important professional stepping stone for Lowe. He played eight games for the pre-Mario Lemieux Pittsburgh Penguins after the Olympics. He also saw time with Austria’s Wiener EV and Finland’s Jokerit Helsinki before retiring after the 1990/91 IHL season with the San Diego Gulls.