As part of Black history month, the Philadelphia Flyers held several events at the Wells Fargo Center before Monday’s matinee against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Among them: An on-ice clinic with ex-Flyer Donald Brashear instructing members of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, a panel discussion for students, and a tour of the NHL’s Black History mobile museum.
Brashear, a former Flyers enforcer who played in the NHL from 1993-94 to 2009-10, gave advice to about 40 skaters, most of whom were Black.
“I’m just trying to inspire them, being one of the Black players who played in the NHL,” he said before the Flyers faced Carolina. “I’m out there with them and I want them to understand it’s possible. There are times we think it’s not and we don’t really believe, but I just want to put it through their minds it’s possible.”
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Brashear said the number of Black players participating in lower-level leagues is impressive.
“You can certainly see it,” he said. “Ten years ago, if I went to a practice like that, maybe five, six kids – 10 kids at the most – were Black. Now you see most of them are colored kids. … That’s certainly awesome to see.”
Brashear praised the late Snider, one of the Flyers’ co-founders, for his forward-thinking and his inclusivity, and for giving a lot of young kids “their first chance” at playing hockey.
The museum pays homage to several Black players, including the Boston Bruins’ Willie O’Ree, who in 1958 became the first Black to play in the NHL, and the Buffalo Sabres’ Val James. In 1981, James became the league’s first Black American player.
Claude Vilgrain, who was born in Haitti but grew up in Quebec City, became the Flyers’ first Black player on March 12, 1994, playing in a 4-4 tie in Montreal.
The forward had good numbers in his brief career with the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils, collecting 21 goals and 53 points in 89 games. He played in just two games with the Flyers and had no points.
“When I was playing in the NHL, I never really had a lot of trouble, other than the normal stuff you would get from the fans,” Vilgrain once told the Philadelphia Daily News. “I didn’t even realize it at the time that I was the first Black player for the Flyers, but I also didn’t realize at the time the influence I was having on kids during my career.”
Brashear was asked if he had any role models when he was on his way to the NHL. He said he admired “most of the Black players, “but that Rick Tocchet, who is white, was extremely influential.
“My role models were people who made it” – regardless of their color – and were playing the same style I was,” he said. “One guy I can certainly talk about is Rick Tocchet, and I ended up playing with him when I was with the Flyers, and that was a dream come true.”