Also known as “the Jackie Robinson of ice hockey,” Canadian-born Willie O’Ree broke the color barrier in the National Hockey League (NHL) on January 18, 1958. Prior to that, he played in the Quebec Hockey League (QHL) for the Quebec Aces. O’Ree persevered through racism and acts of discrimination by fans, players, and franchise front office members. During the 1960-1961 season, he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens. The club did not invite him to a tryout but sent him to a minor league team. O’Ree played in the minors until he was 43 years old. In 2018, the NHL created the annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to recognize an individual who used hockey to positively impact people. During his time in the NHL, O’Ree scored four goals and 10 assists.
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In 1981, Valmore James became the first African American to compete in the NHL. He made his debut with the Buffalo Sabres on July 22. He ultimately played seven games for the Sabres. James was drafted in the 16th round to the Detroit Red Wings in 1977 but did not play any regulation games with the club. By 1983, James was in the American Hockey League, playing for the Rochester Americans. That year, he scored the goal that helped the Americans win the Calder Cup. James returned to the NHL during the 1986-1987 season, playing in four games for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1988, he retired due to a shoulder injury. James also taught Hockey for 10 years. He is the first Florida Native to compete in the NHL.
Minneapolis native Dustin Byfuglien became the first African American to win the Stanley Cup in 2010. He was drafted to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003 and spent two seasons with their minor league affiliate. Byfuglien was called up to the NHL on November 3, 2007. By the end of that season, he made 19 goals and 36 points. He also was instrumental in helping the Blackhawks win the 2010 Stanley Cup. Byfuglien scored three goals during the Finals and 11 goals with five assists in the playoffs. By the next season, he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers and quickly became an alternative captain. On October 27, 2018 Byfuglien scored his 500th career point. He is a four-time NHL All-Star who made five Playoff appearances during his career.