USA Hockey Magazine

November 2013

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BY HARRY THOMPSON Equal Ice The NHL Diversity Program Celebrates 20 Years Of Proving That Hockey Is For Everybody S cattered among the artifacts and mementoes dotting the walls of his USA Hockey office, one of Lou Vairo's most prized possessions is a grainy black and white photograph of Willie O'Ree in action during a National Hockey League game. What makes this image so special for USA Hockey's director of special projects is not just that O'Ree, the first black player to skate in the NHL, signed the photo to his "dear friend," but Vairo was at Madison Square Garden on that particular night, and still remembers it like it was yesterday. A roller hockey player growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Vairo tried to persuade his black friend Ralph Dease to join his team in 1960. 18 NOVEMBER. 2013 After breaking the color barrier in 1958, Willie O'Ree has spent the past 16 years promoting the game to children of all ages and backgrounds. "He said he wouldn't because Negroes didn't play hockey," Vairo remembers. "I said, 'Yeah, they do. There's a guy playing for Boston. His name is Willie O'Ree.'" So they hopped the bus and paid 50 cents each to watch the Bruins play the Rangers with a particular focus paid to O'Ree. "Ralph joined our roller hockey team the next day," Vairo fondly recalls. It wouldn't be the last time Vairo recruited minorities into the game he loves. USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM Creating Open Ice The story of O'Ree becoming the first black player in the NHL is an important part of hockey heritage, but the work done by dedicated volunteers at the grassroots level is the real untold story of breaking down the barriers that have historically kept minorities off the ice. The creation of the NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, is yet another chapter in the long process of proving that PHOTOS BY Getty Images

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