The NHL is celebrating Black History Month in February. Throughout the month, NHL.com will be featuring people of color who have made or are making their mark in the hockey world.
Today, we look at the growing number of black former NHL players who have transitioned into broadcasting the game.
Kevin Weekes didn't mind being the first, but he didn't want to be the last.
Weekes, a former NHL goalie, became the first black former player to be a hockey analyst on national television when he joined Hockey Night in Canada in 2009.
"It was cool being the first, but I didn't want to be the only," said Weekes, now a mainstay on NHL Network and a veteran of 348 games (105-163, six ties, 2.88 GAA, .903 save percentage) for the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. "The game is much better when we can have a wider sense of representation of voices and perspectives and expertise at the table as opposed to a general kind of stereotype of what a 'hockey person' would be."
Weekes has more company these days. As the NHL has become more diverse on ice, it's also become more diverse and inclusive in broadcasting the game.
Anson Carter joined NBC Sports in 2013 as an analyst for the NHL and college hockey. He had 421 points (202 goals, 219 assists) in 674 games for the Hurricanes, Rangers, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets.
[RELATED: More Black Hockey History coverage]
On the local level, former forward Jamal Mayers has provided perspective during Chicago Blackhawks telecasts on NBC Sports Chicago for the past seven seasons after a stint on NHL Network, former Devils captain Bryce Salvador is in his third season as an analyst for MSG Networks, former defenseman Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre is in his first season working Blue Jackets games for Fox Sports Ohio and former forward Anthony Stewart is on Hockey Central on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto.
Mayers, Salvador and Grand-Pierre said they're aware of the trailblazing nature of their jobs, just as they were when they were playing in the NHL.
"Because when you are one of the first doing anything you are going to feel that pressure to do well, not only selfishly but also for all the aspiring kids behind you to do the same," said Mayers, who had 219 points (90 goals, 129 assists) in 915 NHL games for the Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks. "For players of color, we feel this responsibility that we know what we're talking about, that we're articulate and that we're insightful. We're perhaps judged on a higher scale. I don't take it lightly, so I make sure that I'm aware, prepared and showing nuance."
Salvador said their presence in the studio or between the benches during games is important because it helps "grow the game and bring awareness to the game" in communities of color.
"You add the diversity of my background, being biracial, it opens up potential new doors for viewers to be exposed to the game," said the retired defenseman who had 110 points (24 goals, 86 assists) in 786 games for the Devils and Blues. "We all know that Anson and Weekes have been doing a great job for years, but in the local markets now it's great to see more announcers who are biracial or of ethnic backgrounds representing the game and helping to build in those communities."
But the transition from player to broadcaster hasn't always been easy. Mayers said "it was painful to watch myself that first year because it didn't seem as natural or comfortable" to be in front of the camera. He's more relaxed these days.
"I got some great advice early on at NHL Network that you want to get to the point where you're conversational, that you're like one of their (viewers) buddies talking hockey at the water cooler," he said.
Salvador had to get used to sometimes pointing out on-air mistakes made by some Devils players who were once his teammates, as well as getting used to calling them by their proper names during broadcasts.
"Andy Greene was never Andy Greene to me -- it was 'Greener,'" Salvador said of the veteran defenseman who succeeded him as Devils captain. "It was a big stumbling block. I had to go into my brain somewhere and remember what his first name is."
Grand-Pierre said his first time on-air was more nerve-wracking than his first NHL game.
"I was probably sweating more than after my first NHL game," said Grand-Pierre, who had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 269 games for the Blue Jackets, Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and Atlanta Thrashers. "The reason for it was that it was something so new, being in front of the camera. You know the spotlight is on you as opposed to being in a team game, being one of five on the ice or 20 on a team."
Mayers said he's sometimes approached by people of color in Chicago who recognize him from television. He uses those encounters to sell the game.
"The fortunate and unfortunate part of our game is it's amazing on TV -- we do our best in production -- but there's nothing like being there, hearing the sounds, seeing how fast our athletes are," he said. "When I meet someone, it's an opportunity to convince them to check out our game, be introduced to the game and become a fan."