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NHL Winter Classic

Black Hockey History Tour inspires visitors ahead of NHL Winter Classic

Mobile museum makes stop in Minnesota to coincide with Blues-Wild outdoor game

by Jessi Pierce / Independent Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Celebrate. Honor. Inspire

Those are the three nameplates above the makeshift locker stalls aboard the Black Hockey History Tour mobile museum presented by American Legacy. The museum stopped at Braemar Ice Arena on Friday.

The BHHT is in town for the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic, where the Minnesota Wild will host the St. Louis Blues at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; TNT, SN1, TVAS, NHL LIVE).

The curated mobile museum, which will be part of the NHL's Black History Month celebrations in February, will visit 28 NHL cities across North America through April to showcase diversity in the sport and look back at Black pioneers and trailblazers who helped shape NHL history. This marks the third installment of the tour after it took a traveling hiatus in 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns.

"One of the things we know of in other professional sports like NBA, NFL, MLB, is that they really are prided in their history; they know the guys that come before them," said Damon Kwame Mason, curator of the BHHT and director/producer of the documentary "Soul on Ice: Past, Present, & Future." "I always felt that hockey players didn't really know their history, and I think it's just as important to know their history so they have that pride that want to make their ancestors proud. I think it will help make [the game] even better."

Aubrey and Mia Lang, members of MN Unbounded, a Minnesota team comprised of girls of color, soaked it all in at the museum, looking at hockey card collections, Willie O'Ree's skates and photos of past and present NHL players.

One new area held their attention the longest: a section devoted to Black women in hockey which included a Sarah Nurse "Barbie" doll and Verbero's Blake Bolden signature series stick among other items and photos.

"I think it's very neat," said Mia, 10. "I have never seen anything like this in my entire life. I never knew about Angela James. It's all just very cool." 

Aubrey, 12, said seeing pictures of current players like Wild forward Jordan Greenway and defenseman Matt Dumba was also exciting. 

Jessica Bailey of St. Paul, Minnesota, said she was happy to see young girls visiting the museum. 

"I love the women's display over there," Bailey said. "I think that's incredible because we should not just be thinking about the Black men in hockey but the Black women in hockey. Especially seeing girls walking around the trailer, how cool for them to see that they can do that too."

The BHHT is a part of Hockey is for Everyone, a joint NHL and NHLPA initiative that has celebrated diversity and inclusion in hockey since 1996.

"As it says, hockey is for everyone," said Machelle Woolston, a visitor from New Jersey in town for the Winter Classic. "I think now that folks like Matt Dumba, they're standing up. They want to be heard, too, and say, 'We are part of this game, we are part of this history.' It's a long way to go just in general -- for everything -- but it's a good feeling that is really truly starting."

To help continue diversifying and growing the game, the NHL and Wild will install a dryland training facility and mentoring room at Northeast Ice Arena, a community rink located within two miles of downtown Minneapolis, as a legacy to the Winter Classic. 

The Northeast Ice Arena, owned and operated by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, serves as home ice for the Herb Brooks Foundation's "Learn to Play" and "Learn to Skate" free Rink Rats hockey programs, Minneapolis boys and girls JV and Varsity high school teams, the Minneapolis Storm and Minneapolis Titans Youth Hockey Associations, City of Lakes Youth Hockey Association, and other local community hockey programs.

The new space, which will be built with funds donated by the Wild and NHL, will open in the spring of 2022.

The Legacy initiative is an ongoing philanthropic endeavor through which the NHL and local teams support community organizations in the host city of an NHL event. Since 2003, the NHL, its clubs and partners have donated more than $6 million to communities across North America. Legacy projects have aided thousands of hospital patients in recovery; helped at-risk youth and families gain better access to educational and vocational training; and provided greater access to people of all ages to learn and play hockey.

"I think the focus on bringing kids in from different neighborhoods will make a difference," Bailey said. "Doing that and making hockey more accessible will help contribute to diversity in the game.

"I just think it's so important that we do more of this. It's just cool. I don't think that without focusing on it, without being intentional about it, I don't think people will learn about the history."

And you can't change the future without first knowing the history.

"The whole purpose of this truck is to be able to have hockey fans or potential hockey fans know a little bit more history of the league and hockey in general," Mason said. "Today, there are more players of color, not just Black but Asian, East Indian and more that are playing the game of hockey right now, so I'm really excited about the future."

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