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'Soul On Ice' debuts on NHL Network

Award-winning documentary chronicles black hockey players' trials, tribulations

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

NHL Live: Damon Kwame Mason

Damon Kwame Mason on "Soul on Ice" documentary

Ahead of the television debut of the award-winning documentary "Soul on Ice", NHL Live caught up with director Damon Kwame Mason

  • 05:23 •

Deep within his heart and soul, Damon Kwame Mason had a passion to tell a story about the history, trials and tribulations of black players in hockey. So he sacrificed and risked it all with the belief the end result would be worth it.

A former Edmonton disc jockey, Mason, 42, sold his condominium and invested his money and three years of his life to conceive, create and market "Soul On Ice: Past, Present, and Future," a chronicle of how black hockey players endured and persevered through racial barbs -- and still do to this day -- and their impact on the growing participation of the game.

The fruits of Mason's labor were celebrated during the film's United States premiere in Washington on Jan. 14. The winner of the People's Choice Award for documentary film at the Edmonton International Film Festival in 2015 will make its debut on NHL Network on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. 

"I just wanted to share this story of black athletes in hockey because I felt there was a missing void," Mason told SiriusXM NHL Network Radio on Wednesday. "I just love the game of hockey. I love the history of the game and I just felt that it was important that all history is included."

The story of "Soul On Ice" includes a look at the late 1800s and the Colored Hockey League of Nova Scotia, and the ascension of young players from today and where they stand in the present and future. One focus of the film is Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Jaden Lindo. Selected in the sixth round (No. 173) of the 2014 NHL Draft, Lindo is a 20-year-old forward playing for Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League, and the film documents a year in his life leading up to the NHL Draft.

"I think it's an intriguing story, and we'll see what the years ahead hold for him, and whether or not he actually gets to fulfill his dream at the NHL level," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who attended the premiere in January. 

"Kwame Mason did an incredible job telling stories about the history of our game and the journey of a young player trying to make our game in ways that most people probably weren't aware. I think it's been a credit to the game that he's been able to tell those stories."

Mason's first interview was with Herb Carnegie before he passed away in March 2012 at the age of 92. Considered by many the best black player never to play in the NHL, Carnegie's story is consistent with the plight of black players who too often endured racial adversity. But instead of quitting, players like Carnegie and Willie O'Ree, who became the first black player in NHL history in 1958, used the reality of racism as motivation to pursue their goals even harder. 

"When I talked to Herb Carnegie about it, he just laughed it off," Mason said. "He was like, 'I didn't care what they said. I was out there to score goals. You can say what you want. You're not stopping me.' It was the same idea with Willie O'Ree.

"I feel that there is a generation of young black athletes that played hockey that never continued to play because they weren't able to handle the pressures of what was going on in the stands, in the locker rooms and against opposing teams. But for the guys that did, I think that's the greatest lesson to teach young kids today. No matter what problems are ahead of you, you have to fight through it and never give up, and that's what these guys did. This generation now benefits from their perseverance through adversity."

That perseverance is part of the message Mason wishes to share through "Soul On Ice." The hope is for people to see a great story that's unique and a reflection of the NHL's growth. 

"I think the message is that we pride ourselves in the League, in our diversity and in our inclusiveness," Bettman said. "This story and the story that Kwame tells through 'Soul On Ice' represents that in ways that, as I said, most people are not aware of. He's very talented but perhaps as important, he's very passionate about what he's doing."

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