Meeker Warrior Column: Herb Carnegie Finally Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame

Earlier this week, the new members of the Hockey Hall of Fame were announced. Roberto Luongo, who we know well in Quebec, will be joined by his two former teammates, twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The latter will see one of their countrymen, Mr. Ottawa Senators himself, Daniel Alfredsson, also join this crop of new candidates.

For those who have seen them play and quickly consult these players’ cards, it doesn’t take much to explain why they have earned their place in Toronto’s Brookfield Place building. It wasn’t these contemporary stars of my day, whose careers I followed from beginning to end, that caught my attention.

Other newcomers this year include Finnish player Riikka Sallinen, who won bronze at the Nagano 1998 and PyeongChang 2018 Olympics and was also the Nagano tournament’s top scorer. She deserves the honor that is bestowed on her.

However, it was the name of this year’s honored builder that caught my eye: Herb Carnegie. A moment of emotion came over me when I learned that he would be part of this cohort honored by hockey monks in Toronto and around the world.

Why so much emotion for the introduction of a builder who has never played in the NHL? Because for many, he is perhaps the best black player who has not played in the NHL. Many have mentioned or summed up Herb Carnegie’s journey over the past few days. We note that he played mostly in Quebec with the Aces in the 1950s and that if he hadn’t been black he would have played in the National League.

He would have done it years before Willie O’Ree, who became the first black man to play in the NHL and also traversed Quebec. Additionally, it should be noted to what extent the Senior League of Quebec was an important league for the incorporation of black players into the sport of professional ice hockey. The Quebec Aces that housed Carnegie and Willie O’Ree were part of that league, but it was with the Sherbrooke team that Herb Carnegie played on the Black Aces line. He formed a trio of three black players with his brother Ossie and Manning McIntyre.

Herb Carnegie’s story is significant for less rosy reasons, too. I mentioned earlier that he never played in the NHL because he was black. According to multiple reports, then-Toronto Maple Leafs GM Conn Smyth (yes, the one in whose honor the NHL’s Most Valuable Player in the playoffs was named) said he would give $10,000 to anyone who could screw Herb Carnegie, so he could welcome him to his team.

The New York Rangers also invited Carnegie to a training camp. However, he was offered less money than he earned in Quebec. Which prompted the center player to decline the offer. For him, respect was more important than being the first black player to play in the NHL. With this gesture, Carnegie postponed the presence of the first black player in the NHL by 10 years, but he paved the way and by refusing to join the Rangers, he was able to play with Jean Béliveau.

In addition, Mr. Béliveau said he learned a lot from Carnegie, with whom he remained very close throughout his life. For example, we can impact hockey history in a variety of ways without ever playing in the NHL.

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