Anybody see that Tony X exchange happen on Twitter last month? It was during the first round of the NHL playoffs between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues and it went viral pretty quick:
So Tony X is a black man that stumbled across the first round of the NHL playoffs, loved it and live tweeted about it as you just saw. His 15 minutes of fame got him tons of retweets, national attention, interviews on news shows and meeting a bunch of NHL players past and present, all of whom welcomed him as a new fan to hockey.
I heard about this the day after it happened and I had two reactions:
1 - I'm glad at least one more black person on this planet now watches hockey.
2 - Welcome to the club, Tony X. I'm black and I've been watching hockey for 20 years.
When I was a little kid, I was a huge baseball fan. Growing up in Detroit, I loved the Tigers. I had all of their baseball cards, watched every game and even had some of my own kids sized gear. My dad and I went to a good number of games at Tiger Stadium.
As I got older, the geek in me took hold and I started moving away from baseball and getting into science fiction and video games. My Saturdays consisted of playing Super Mario World and watching Star Trek for a good few years. I never lost my love for sports, though. The thing is, by then the Tigers weren't very good and I wanted to watch a team that was capable of winning an actual championship like other cities had. Enter the Detroit Red Wings.
The 1995-96 season is when I started watching hockey. I was 13 years old and the Wings had just set an NHL record for wins in a season with a 62-13-7 record. Everyone was considering them a lock to win the Stanley Cup, but as most Wings fans know, they got bounced in the Western Conference Finals by the Colorado Avalanche in six games, the same series in which Claude Lemieux smashed Kris Draper's face into the boards at the end that started the Wings-Avs rivalry. I was more than upset. In fact, I was yelling and screaming most of the night. Not a happy time at all.
I came back the next year watching just about every Wings game that was televised that I could watch, which meant anything other than what was on PASS Sports because we didn't have that channel and I could only watch replays of games on the weekends. Most of the time it was UPN 50 or CBC for me. I watched A TON of hockey. By the all-star break, I knew every team's best players and every goalie and backup goalie. I was beyond obsessed.
It only got worse when the Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years that season. They had me, hook line and sinker. I loved every second of it.
The tough part was getting anyone else in my family to watch it. My dad was open to the idea here and there and we went to a game or two over the years after that, but my uncle is the only one that I've able to consistently talk and watch hockey with.
So I started looking for black players in the league just so I could say, "Look! There are black hockey players! This is why you should watch it now!" I found out about Grant Fuhr and his time in Edmonton with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the Oilers dynasty. I learned about Anson Carter, Donald Brashear and Mike Grier. I thought I had the perfect selling pitch when Jarome Iginla won the Art Ross Trophy in the 2001-02 season. How many times has a black man led the National Hockey League in scoring? Once: Him.
My family cheered for the Wings because they were local but they never got into the game like my uncle and I did. National Hockey Night on ESPN was appointment viewing for us all the time and it was glorious.
Today, the NHL is in a different place after three lockouts since 1994-95 and there's a salary cap in place, and while the rules changes have done everything to make the game less punishing and more scoring-driven, it hasn't killed my love for the game one bit. Hockey is my 1B favorite sport with Football as my 1A and it will always be that way, without question.
And I'm not going to lie, I love surprising people with that revelation. One of my favorite hockey fan moments was when I was working at GameStop and a Canadian family visiting the area had come into the store looking to buy an XBOX. They were wearing Toronto gear and I had to tell them I was a huge Wings fan. We got into a good discussion for about 15 minutes about hockey history, going back to the Edmonton-Calgary rivalry in the 80's. I will never forget the stunned look on these guys' faces at what I knew about the game. They were surprised to see an American know so much about hockey, let alone a young Black American. It was priceless.
So yeah, when I read Tony X's tweets from the Blackhawks-Blues game last month, it took me back to when I was first becoming a hockey fan two decades ago. Outside of my uncle, I've found maybe a handful of other black people that are definite hockey fans over the years and follow the NHL. I've always wished that there were more and I'm glad there are more players in the league today like P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds and Evander Kane. Hockey is one of the best sports out there and the more fans there are like me, my uncle and Tony X now, the merrier as far as I'm concerned. It's a great game and more black people SHOULD watch it.
On that note......GO WINGS!!!!!!!