OTTAWA -- The Colored Hockey League of the Canadian Maritimes came alive Monday when players from pee wee to former NHL pros suited up to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the all-black league.
The Ottawa Senators, NHL and Black History Ottawa hosted a commemorative game at Canadian Tire Centre to recognize the league that operated from 1895 to the 1930s and was comprised of the sons and grandsons of escaped United States slaves.
The teams took the names of the Halifax Eurekas and the Dartmouth Jubilees and played a two-period game before hundreds of fans who watched Halifax win 7-6.
"It was a celebratory moment to honor the men in the Color Hockey League who, despite hardship and racism, persevered and, in my mind, helped revolutionize the game of hockey we know today," said Bob Dawson, a 73-year-old who helped organize the game and had a goal and an assist for Halifax.
The game was a star-studded event. Willie O'Ree, who became the NHL's first black player when he debuted with the Boston Bruins on Jan. 18, 1958, dropped the ceremonial puck to open the game.
Senators all-star forward Anthony Duclair served as an honorary coach, and "Hockey Night in Canada" host Ron MacLean was a celebrity referee.
Senators alumni Brad Smyth, Shaun Van Allen and Chris Neil played, as did former NHL goalie Fred Brathwaite, an Ottawa resident.
"This is a huge honor for me, doing this with Willie O'Ree, growing the sport, growing Black History Month," Duclair said.
Duclair said he didn't know much about the history of the Colored Hockey League until he toured the NHL Black Hockey History Tour mobile museum during its stop in St. Louis for the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend.
"Just learning from that experience was pretty eye-opening," he said. "And you see the people who've come out here tonight. Probably a couple of years ago, maybe nobody would have showed up. Now you see you've got a couple of people here and, hopefully, in the next couple of years we fill this arena up."
MacLean said he became aware of the Colored Hockey League mainly from reading "Black Ice: The Lost History of The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1892-1925" by George and Darril Fosty.
"That was my portal to the whole history," he said. "I think I would have gleaned some of it from through the Scotiabank Hockey Day telecast that was being staged both in Halifax and Cole Harbour (Nova Scotia), but nothing to the extent I did because of the book. It's a fabulous salute to an unbelievable part of our history."
Some hockey scholars believe the all-black league is where some of the elements of modern hockey were born, from the slap shot to the butterfly style of goaltending.
Ottawa's celebration of black hockey history continues Tuesday when the 500-square-foot mobile museum, which has been in town since Sunday, moves to Canadian Tire Center and opens for tours from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET.
O'Ree will again drop the ceremonial puck with the descendants of Colored Hockey League players at the game between the Senators and Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; RDS2, TSN5, PRIME, NHL.TV).
Photo Courtesy: Mark Kelly/Ottawa Senators