The first black American in the NHL tells his story
Val James became the first African American player in the NHL when he took to the ice with the Buffalo Sabres in 1982, and in 1987 he became the first black player of any nationality to skate for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Born in central Florida, James grew up on Long Island and received his first pair of skates for his 13th birthday. At 16, James left home to play in Canada, where he was the only black person in junior and, often, in the whole town. While popular for his tough play and winning personality, the teenager faced racist taunts at opposing arenas, and the prejudice continued at all levels of the game. In his two NHL stints, James defined himself as a smart team player and opponent, known for his pugilistic skills. Black Ice is the untold story of a trail-blazing athlete who endured and overcame discrimination to realize his dreams and become an inspiration for future generations.
Black Ice Review
I was lucky enough to play for two years on the Haupauge High School Hockey team. Val's Dad Henry coached us. When Val and Chris Brinster were not in Canada, they would join our team for some games. During the Victorious Suffolk County Championship final, The Newley minted AHL Long Island Cougars let us wear their jerseys for that game. During the game, from the opposing team bench, one of the players called out the "N" word. From in front of our bench, Val turned and shot a blistering wrist shot towards the bench causing a scattering of heads and ensuing penalties. Val's Dad Henry, beloved by his players would tell us to "shoot the dollar"! Which would inspire us. Great memories and Great book Val.
Whether or not you are a hockey Fantis is a good book with a good story. After seeing an interview of him I was interested in reading his book. Following his journey from a kid learning to play hockey and seeing his progression to playing pro was interesting. Following his dreams to play hockey while dealing with racism makes for an interesting story. And seeing how he made peace with it years later is remarkable. Loved reading this book.
Great read. It's amazing and inspirational to read how a man can handle himself with dignity and grace while having to deal with the most vile insults thrown his way. Even while recounting this instances, Val brings moments of levity that make you laugh out loud. A wonderfully engaging book.