When Martin Luther King Jr. boldly issued the "Birmingham Manifesto," demanding an end to segregation, from the Alabama jail in 1963, there had only been one black player in the history of the NHL, Willie O'Ree, who broke in in 1958. Today, there are 16 black players on NHL rosters and 13 more progressing through the system. All told, there are 49 minority players in the NHL, which has forged alliances with 23 youth programs across the country under the umbrella of the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone Initiative.
One of those youth organizations, the Detroit Hockey Association, will host the 20-team Hockey In The Hood V, Friday through Sunday, at Jack Adams Arena in Detroit. Some select games will also be held at Detroit's City Sports Center.
O'Ree, the director of youth development for the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone Initiative, will be on hand to drop the ceremonial first puck at 2 p.m. Saturday. O'Ree will be bringing two special gifts. He will be accompanied by the Stanley Cup and the Jack Adams Trophy that annually honors the best coach in the NHL. The trophies will be on display at Jack Adams Arena from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Saturday.
Bring the family and have fun because all the events are free. Hockey In The Hood V is a major event, bringing in youth-hockey teams, from Mites to Midgets, from Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and the District of Columbia. There's even a team coming from Gov. Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska. There will also be a sledge-hockey game Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET.
The annual Hockey in the Hood tournament breaks down stereotypes and brings diverse inner-city hockey teams together for a tournament that is capped off by the presentation of the Willie O'Ree championship trophy, the Willie O'Cup. In 2008, Hockey In The Hood IV celebrated the 50th anniversary of O'Ree's becoming the first black player in the NHL.
Blacks have enjoyed great success in the NHL since O'Ree's breakthrough. Grant Fuhr, now the goaltending coach for the Phoenix Coyotes, won five Stanley Cups and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003. Fuhr was the MVP of the 1986 NHL All-Star Game. Calgary Flames right winger Jarome Iginla has won two Rocket Richard Trophies for leading the NHL in goals. He's a future Hall of Famer. San Jose Sharks right winger Mike Grier won the 1995 NCAA championship while attending King's alma mater, Boston University.
Hockey In The Hood V is one of the sanctioned events of the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone Initiative, which provides support and unique programming to non-profit youth-hockey organizations across North America that are committed to offering children of all backgrounds opportunities to play hockey. The initiative is supported by NHL member clubs, players, NHL alumni and fans. To date, Hockey is for Everyone has exposed close to 45,000 boys and girls to unique hockey experiences.
To celebrate this initiative, the National Hockey League hosts the annual Hockey is for Everyone Month in February. The League-wide initiative includes numerous activities to promote the diversity of the game that involve our clubs, players, alumni, fans and grass-roots diversity programs, all with the goal of raising awareness and celebrating the growth of the game.