Everett Fitzhugh grew up in Detroit. Unlike other kids in his neighbourhood, he fell in love with hockey at a young age. “When I wheeled my net out, [other kids] looked at me like I had two heads,” he says.
Kyle Boyd’s father was the first Black team physician in the NHL. Kyle grew up wearing No. 12 – the same as Jarome Iginla. “The thing that stands out for me is that, as a player of colour, there were not many heroes to look up to,” he says.
When she was a senior in high school in Pennsylvania, De’Aira Anderson told a guidance counsellor that her dream was to work in communications for a pro hockey team. “We joke that I kind of manifested my job,” Anderson says.
All three have converged as co-workers with the Seattle Kraken – and it is not by accident. The NHL’s newest team has gone out of the way to fill its staff with employees who reflect the multicultural makeup of its community. In doing so, it stands out as the most diverse franchise in the league.
“We are building a little different organization, and it has led to a better culture, self-esteem and pride,” says Tod Leiweke, the club’s part-owner, president and chief executive officer. “This is about doing the right thing, and doing the right thing for the game we love. We are better for it, no question.”
When the Kraken begins play next season, Fitzhugh will be the NHL’s first Black full-time play-by-play announcer. Boyd was hired as youth and community development director, and his sister, Kendall Boyd-Tyson, was brought in as vice-president of strategy and analytics. Anderson is corporate communications manager and the lone Black woman serving in that capacity in the league.
Along with them, the Kraken hired Hewan Teshome as senior vice-president and general counsel, former state representative Eric Pettigrew as vice-president of government relations and outreach, Princess Lawrence as manager of investor relations and special projects, Zack Peggins as a social-media specialist, Lamont Buford as vice-president of game presentation and Flora Taylor to manage the executive office. All are Black.
“I don’t see it as an issue to beat our chest on, but I am proud of it and emotional about it,” Leiweke said. “I love the game so much, and I don’t think of diversity as a challenge.
“This is an incredible privilege, and with every privilege comes obligation, and with obligation comes doing things right. You might have to look a little harder, but candidates are out there.”
Anderson was chosen for her position from a field of 550 applicants. “De’Aira’s hiring was interesting to me,” says Katie Townsend, the Kraken’s senior vice-president of marketing and communications. “There were a lot of people I knew and a lot who were recommended to me that I thought would be good at it.”
From the interview process on, she was everyone’s favourite.
Fitzhugh says he was in third grade in the late 1990s when he watched a game between the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings on television. He remembers that Georges Laraque, Mike Grier and Sean Brown were all playing for the Oilers at the time. All are Black.
“Hockey was dominated by white men,” Fitzhugh says. “When I saw that, I knew I could have a place in the game. I knew I belonged.”
Fitzhugh attended Bowling Green University and did play-by-play for its men’s hockey team. He also worked for one season in the USHL, and for the Cincinnati Cyclones, the Buffalo Sabres’ affiliate in the ECHL.
After a story about him appeared in The Athletic, he was contacted by the Kraken, which was searching for the voice of its team.
“I never expected to hear from someone in the NHL,” Fitzhugh says. “I thought some of my Cyclone friends were playing a joke on me.”
“It’s an honour and a dream to work for an NHL organization when you see the strides that have been made,” Fitzhugh says. “When I was hired, it was the best day of my life.”
Boyd was skating at a rink in the Seattle suburbs the year before last when he nearly bumped into Leiweke, who was also out for a public skate.
“He was flying around the rink and I made a point to catch up to him,” Leiweke says.
Leiweke chatted him up, handed over a business card and invited him for a coffee at – of course – a Starbucks.
“It’s not me you want to hire,” Boyd said then. “It’s my sister.”
A couple of weeks later, all three met for coffee and Leiweke was impressed.
“My immediate reaction was, ‘Wow!’” he says.
Kendall has a master’s degree from the Yale School of Management and a bachelor’s in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech. Her brother has a bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth and a master’s in education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Their dad, Joel Boyd, is the physician for the NHL’s Wild. In 1998, he became the first Black physician for the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team at the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. That was the first year NHL players participated.
Kendall played one year of organized hockey as she grew up, and was the captain of a club team at Yale. Kyle played minor hockey in his youth and also played for a club team at Dartmouth.
“I was genuinely aware at a young age that it was rare to find people like me in this game,” he says. “I would look at the other major sports and yearn for that same culture. Usually, I was the only Black player on the team.
“The reality is that for those that do play, it won’t be in a critical mass. When that is the case, you feel different from everyone else.”
To reach the most diverse group of people possible, Kyle says the Kraken is building its practice facility in the densest part of Seattle in an area where there are no other rinks.
“It wouldn’t be of benefit to have a building with three sheets of ice in the suburbs,” he says. “It is important that we go to places where we can interface with the community, with neighbourhoods, schools and Boys and Girls Clubs.
“We want to get balls and sticks out to those groups and then think about the pathways for them to get to our facilities. We are in an exciting and amazing space to grow our own programs.”
Leiweke has a long history in pro sports. He is the former CEO of the Seattle Seahawks, was the president of the expansion Minnesota Wild, served as the acting president of the Portland Trail Blazers, was the CEO and minority owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the chief operating officer of the NFL. His older brother Tim used to run Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
“Seattle is a little different from other places,” he says. “You go back 100 years and it was kind of the last stop on the road. People here are definitely pioneers at heart.
“I understand the fans’ sensibility and the social conscience here.”
The Tampa Bay Rays clinched a spot in the postseason on Wednesday, but that was the secondary story against the Toronto Blue Jays.
During the game prior, Rays centrefielder Kevin Kiermaier was the centre of attention as he from Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk, which the Rays refused to hand back to the visiting club. Less than 24 hours later during the series finale between the two AL East teams, Kiermaier re-entered the spotlight as he was struck by a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki in the eighth inning.
Borucki was ejected after the umpires met to review the struck batter, which then caused Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo and a very red-faced pitching coach Pete Walker to storm onto the field.
Walker was also tossed from the game for his outburst.
Kiermaier didn’t let up after the 7-1 victory, focusing on the late-game dramatics.
“Oh yeah, it was intentional,” “Pretty much almost went behind me. I thought it was a weak move, to be quite honest. It’s over. It didn’t hurt by any means, so I don’t care. Whatever. We move on. We got a series win, and I hope we play those guys, I really do.”
When Kiermaier was asked why he wants to face the Blue Jays again, it was mysterious to say the least. “The motivation is there,” he said. “That’s all that needs to be said.”
Despite Kiermaier being so sure it was intentional, Montoyo had a different idea of what happened, but was certainly sympathetic to the Rays’ reaction.
“Pete’s reaction told me everything about it,”“He missed. He hit him, but I understand what it looks like. I understood how the Rays got upset about it. That thing was on for two days.”
With just 10 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto is on a hot Wild Card race with fellow divisional rivals Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The two clubs involved in the ruckus will not face each other again unless the Blue Jays earn a spot in the postseason and are able to beat their opposition in that single-game playoff matchup.
As if the MLB postseason wasn’t dramatic enough, now there’s an underlying narrative ready to boil over at any moment if the two face each other in a series.
Jack Eichel is no longer captain of the Buffalo Sabres.
Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Thursday morning Eichel has been stripped of the ‘C’ after three seasons in the role.
“I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres,” Adams said. “From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision.”
Adams added the Sabres will not have a captain this season.
“I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision.” pic.twitter.com/K0vajWnCR0
Adams also confirmed that Eichel will start the season on long-term injured reserve as he remains in a holding pattern with the team on how to best treat his neck injury.
“I think we would all agree that we were hoping to avoid surgery…unfortunately, yesterday Jack did not pass his physical. At this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting…we will continue to work toward a solution,” Adams said.
TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported Wednesday that there is nothing close on the trade front for Eichel, who has been looking for a trade throughout the off-season.
“Well, it’s tough to pinpoint a timeline but we do know there is ongoing discussions with Jack Eichel’s agent Pat Brisson and Kevyn Adams, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. They’re on good terms, they have an excellent relationship,” Dreger said on Insider Trading. “We also know that Jack Eichel will start the regular season on LTIR. Now, he saw a team of specialists over the course of the off-season. Some encouraged the artificial disc replacement surgery; however, the Buffalo Sabres remain adamant that the fusion surgery is the best option.
“It’s possible that Eichel gets traded and has the disc replacement surgery under the blessing of a new club, but there’s no guarantee and it doesn’t seem like anything is real close on that front.”
Eichel was limited to 21 games last season due to the neck injury and there has been a long-standing dispute with the team this summer over how to treat the injury.
The 24-year-old centre has been the subject of trade talk since the end of last season and his former agents released a statement in July trying to spur a trade. He switched agents to Pat Brisson in August.
“What’s critically important to make sure is clear is that we’re in control of this process,” Adams said in July, prior to the statement from Eichel’s then-agents. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure.
“If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, that’s going to help us improve – whether that’s improve right away or improve down the road, those are all the things weigh – we’d be open to it. But we’re not in a position where we feel we’re just going to do something to do it. That doesn’t make any sense.”
Eichel had two goals and 18 points in 21 games last season and has five years remaining in the eight-year, $80 million contract he signed with the Sabres in 2017.
He had served as captain of the Sabres since 2018.
On the Oilers Now radio show, Oilers GM Ken Holland confirmed to host Bob Stauffer that winger Josh Archibald is the only unvaccinated player on the Oilers roster. Archibald has a one-way contract, with a $1.5 million cap hit. If he were to make the Oilers, and miss out on all games in the USA, he’d miss 30-plus games.
“It’s much more difficult being a Canadian team,” Holland said, with Stauffer pointing out the Oilers play 50 games in Canada, 32 in the USA this year. “Obviously we got to go back and forth across the border multiple times this season. Obviously it’s going to be much different playing on a U.S. team vs. playing on a Canadian team being unvaccinated.”
Here’s what Holland said earlier at his press conference about the unvaccinated player (whom he had not yet identified):
Holland said he was still talking to the player (Archibald). “As the season starts I would anticipate we would have one player that would be unvaccinated.”
Some NHL teams have banned unvaccinated players from training camp. Holland has not yet decided if the player will be welcomed at Edmonton’s training camp. “I think the player is going through a process to decide because I think it’s a difficult decision. So I want to give the person the appropriate time. I’ll see where I’m at a week from now, or ten days from now. But we’ll see.”
If a player is unvaccinated and the team goes to the United States, he must quarantine when he comes back to Canada, Holland said. “It’s going to make it very difficult.” (On a side note, the Oilers most likely brought in forward Colton Sceviour as a possibility at forward).
An unvaxxed player would miss about 30 days due to cross-border 14-day quarantines, Holland said, adding that the player might not be ready to play after being out, and if the team was going well it might not want to change the line-up. Oilers coach Dave Tippett and Holland met with the player and looked at how many times the team would cross the border this year. “It’s going to be very difficult.”
Edmonton recently brought in checking winger Colton Sceviour on a PTO. Sceviour is a similar player to Archibald, a checking winger who can play on the PK. If Archibald is sent to the AHL — and it’s hard to imagine that’s not now being considered as Plan B — that will open up an opportunity for Sceviour.
The Detroit Red Wings have invited unvaxxed Tyler Bertuzzi to camp, but the Red Wings only play nine games in Canada. U.S. teams have more ability to work with unvaccinated players than Canadian teams, which puts the Oilers and Archibald in a far more difficult spot.
Another option would be to trade Archibald to a U.S. team that doesn’t play many games in Canada, though I’m unsure if any team would take on Archibald at his $1.5 million per cap hit.
As for Archibald, let me repeat what I said in my last post, that I know what advice I’d give this player, that while there’s almost no chance he’ll get hammered hard by COVID, there’s almost no chance he’ll get hammered hard in any significant way by the vaccine.
With all that in mind, he should put his pay cheque and his family first.
That’s the same advice I gave to a vaccinate hesitant relative, by the way. In the end, but only after the vaccine passport rules came in Alberta, that individual decided to get vaccinated. That person is now at relative peace with their decision, despite the coercive new regulation that forced them to get the jab. I suspect this Oilers player will make the same call and get vaccinated, but I’m glad to see the Oilers are being patient with him, and as an Oilers fans, I’ll do the same.
There’s a huge amount of anger and intolerance directed at the unvaccinated right now. There’s a frenzy of fear and self-righteousness boiling up here, a dangerous combination. When I think of more lockdown measures of the fully vaccinated, I have felt some of that anger myself. But I try to control it.
Every one of us sees this pandemic through our own distorted and self-interested lens. We’re all trying to balance the possibility of different harms to our own selves and our families and community. I don’t see how turning on anyone helps in this situation. I see many hard and difficult discussions, as Holland is now having with his players, as the way to go. I applaud Holland’s patient and understanding approach.
P.S. Rick Dhaliwal of CHEK TV in Vancouver reports: “Alex Chiasson has signed a PTO with the Canucks.”
For unvaccinated players who cannot be with team due to travel/quarantine rules or COVID infections, they are not paid. For cap purposes, this is similar to players suspended without pay, where the team does not incur a cap hit while the player is suspended without pay
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