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Hockey Is For Everyone

'Soul on Ice' inspirational project for director

Damon Kwame Mason, who made documentary on black players in NHL, has passion for hockey, history

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / NHL.com Staff Writer

When Damon Kwame Mason, a radio host and avid hockey fan from Edmonton, wanted to learn more about the history of black players in the NHL, he didn't just do research, he made a documentary.

The 2015 film, "Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future" showcases the Coloured Hockey League and the NHL and features appearances by Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, former players Anson Carter, Georges Laraque and Kevin Weekes and current players Joel Ward, Wayne Simmonds and Trevor Daley.

In conjunction with Hockey Is For Everyone month, the documentary will be shown at NHL functions throughout February, including at Prudential Center in Newark on Sunday after the New Jersey Devils host the San Jose Sharks. Mason, Carter and others will lead a panel discussion at the free event, which is open to the public and will begin at about 3:30 p.m.

"I'm a huge fan of hockey," said Mason, 46, the film's director. "I kind of put it on the back burner when in high school but then when I got a job, a boss of mine took me to my first game in Calgary and I got back into the game. I was seeing more black players coming up in the ranks, the P.K. Subbans, the Wayne Simmondses and then in 2005-06 when I was in Edmonton, I was around a lot of the Edmonton Oilers and I got to know them personally and thought it would be cool if there were more black players in the League. 

"So I started doing some research and found an article about the Coloured League in Nova Scotia, which no one was talking about, so I realized I wanted to do something since I'm very passionate about hockey, history and black culture. So I wanted to combine them all and do this documentary about the history of black athletes in the sport of hockey."

It was a big undertaking for Mason, who used one of his connections to help springboard the project.

Video: Damon Kwame Mason on "Soul on Ice" documentary

"It was a very hard process to get going," Mason said. "I had worked with Laraque so we had a friendship. I told him I didn't really know anyone, and he let me interview him and then I went to Montreal. Anyplace these players were at, I'd show up and interview [them], and I was able to get some really good stories."

O'Ree made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins in 1958 with much less fanfare than Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. O'Ree had a dream and got to experience it, which is why he works with the NHL today helping to promote diversity in the game.

"It's been great," O'Ree said. "It's been growing every year. More boys and girls are playing hockey today than ever before. I tell these kids that you can do anything you set your mind to."

That message from O'Ree rang true to those Mason interviewed for the documentary.

"The one thing the NHL guys didn't say was, 'I gave up,'" Mason said. "They said, 'I need to prove the doubters wrong. I need to show them that what they think is wrong. If I give up, they win.' Willie O'Ree, Georges Laraque, Anson Carter, all of those guys went through some sort of adversity and persevered."

It was also a humbling experience for Mason, who was surprised to learn of something that happened when Laraque's NHL career began in 1997.

"Laraque told me that when he finally made it to the NHL, guys from opposing teams he played against when he was younger would send him letters apologizing for how they treated him," Mason said.

 

The documentary sheds light on the trials black players faced, and some still face today.

"Willie is a great guy," Mason said. "I think he's a great ambassador and a great person to preach the gospel of Hockey Is For Everyone. Hockey truly is for everyone and I think the NHL is going in the right direction. This is about growing the game that we all love."

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