SEATTLE -- The NHL Black Hockey History Tour arrived in Seattle on Saturday to illuminate an important part of the League's history in its newest city.
The 525-square mobile museum, sponsored by American Legacy, is part of the NHL Hockey is for Everyone initiative. The collection features video screens, pictures, and information housed inside a large semi-truck, parked outside of Seattle's Northwest African American Museum.
At the adjacent Jimi Hendrix Park, youngsters took shots on a makeshift street hockey rink. Local youth and adult hockey associations set up informational tents, as did NHL Seattle, preparing for its inaugural season in 2021-22.
"We're not only excited to bring this event but we're excited by the reception we've been given," NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said. "We're going to make some commitments; commitments to inclusion, commitments to diversity and we're on the path already. But being here today in this beautiful facility only inspires us more."
Leiweke represented NHL Seattle at a luncheon held at the museum with community and civic leaders to begin a dialogue about working together to expose the game of hockey to a more diverse audience and increase participation in the sport.
Inside the truck, visitors learn about the history of black players in the game and the League. The Boston Bruins jersey that belonged to Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, is on display, as is a mask worn by Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr, along with pictures of every black player to appear in an NHL game, sample locker stalls and timelines of achievements.
"People are really enjoying what they're seeing and what they're discovering," said Damon Kwame Mason, who directed the 2015 documentary "Soul on Ice: Past, Present, and Future," chronicling the history of black hockey. "It's really interesting when you tell somebody that the first organized sport for blacks was hockey. They assume it's got to be football; they assume it's got to be baseball.
"Before the Negro Baseball Leagues there was the Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes. That's 1895 to 1930, and it's not like they just started skating in 1895, they were skating and playing hockey long before that. These are kids that were next generation slaves from Canada."
Mason, a mainstay of the NHL Black Hockey History Tour and native of Toronto, said he sees a great opportunity.
"Seattle is in a very unique position in that they can be the trend-setters," Mason said. "They can be the ones to set the tone from the very beginning. They can go into not just the black community, but the Hispanic community, the Asian community, all communities to let them know they are welcome to the sport. Because that's the only way the game is going to grow, and that's the only way the game is going to be better."
Leiweke said NHL Seattle is focusing on diversity in the hiring of its staff; the next step is bringing the sport to a similarly diverse audience and making it accessible to players of all backgrounds.
"There shouldn't be any alibis and excuses," Leiweke said. "If you're doing it from scratch you should be able to do it right. Diversity and inclusion is right. So far, so good, but we've only started and we're going to pick up speed."
The NHL Black Hockey History Tour will remain in Seattle an appearance at the Seattle Center on Sunday and the Matt Griffin YMCA on Tuesday.
Photos courtesy: NHL Seattle