NASHVILLE -- If you were around the Black Hockey History Tour mobile museum in Nashville on Sunday, it didn't take long to notice just how far the game has come.
Fans lined up to take a tour of the museum while children of all ages, races and backgrounds played street hockey and waited to meet Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O'Ree, who was the first black player in the NHL and is currently the League's Diversity Ambassador.
O'Ree was welcomed by former NHL players and current members of the Predators broadcast team, Hal Gill, Chris Mason and Terry Crisp.
"The Hockey is for Everyone program is a good program," O'Ree said. "I wouldn't have stayed with it for 23 years if I didn't think the program worked. I've met so many wonderful boys and girls over the years. It's just a nice feeling if you can reach out and touch one boy or girl and make a difference in their life."
The NHL today is filled with players from different races, religions, backgrounds and upbringings. That's a big part of what makes it such a beautiful game.
"They're there because they have the skills and the ability to be there," O'Ree said. "I was impressed with [former NHL player Jarome Iginla]. I went to his training camp back in Calgary when I first came with the NHL and he came up to me and said 'Willie, I can't imagine what you had to go through to make it possible for players like myself to play in the NHL. I have the highest respect and admiration for you.' When you hear that from a player that's been a captain and been in the League, it's nice to hear. I hear that from a lot of the black players that are playing in the League at the present time."
Predators fan Carl Stevenson brought his family out to enjoy the experience of Hockey Day in America and tour the Black Hockey History mobile museum. For Stevenson, watching his son play with children from different backgrounds was an illustration of what the Hockey is for Everyone program is all about.
"I'm so happy that my family and I were able to come out here today," Stevenson said. "We haven't gone to many games together just because of my work schedule, but my son became a huge hockey fan when the Predators traded for P.K. Subban. He gravitated toward him and felt like he had somebody to identify with in a sport that was new to all of us. I'm sure we're not alone in that here in the Nashville area, and since then we've just fallen in love with the game. Events like this are just great because it shows that hockey truly is a sport for everybody."