Color of Hockey: Barnes honoring Black NHL players with card collection

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William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he profiles Dean Barnes and his collection of hockey cards featuring Black players.

Dean Barnes used Canada’s coronavirus pandemic lockdown last year to resume a childhood hobby.

A 51-year-old superintendent with the Halton District School Board near Toronto, Barnes began completing the 1979-80 set of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards that he started collecting when he was 8 years old.

“While I was finishing that set, I did a lot of reflection about what was going on in hockey in terms of promoting awareness and the numbers of players of African descent that played,” said Barnes, whose collection includes a Wayne Gretzky rookie card. “When I was finishing that set, I started to collect players of African descent.”

Barnes has managed to collect the cards of most of the nearly 100 Black and biracial players who appeared in at least one NHL game since Wille O’Ree became the League’s first Black player on Jan. 18, 1958.

He keeps the cards of the first 36 players in chronological order inside a special display case that he hopes to share with the public someday. The rest are kept in clear plastic sheets in binders.

“Growing up in the 1970s, I was told there weren’t many [Black] players at the time,” said Barnes, who played for the University of Waterloo in 1989-90. “I would say to a number of friends and colleagues, ‘Proportionally, yeah, you’re right, but if you go by the historic context, you should be proud of the number of players who have stepped on the ice in the NHL.’ And that’s what this collection represents. I wanted to capture and celebrate the increasing growth of players that I think really picks up in the 2000s.”

The collection features rookie cards of Hockey Hall of Famers like goalie Grant Fuhr and forward Jarome Iginla. It also includes lesser-known Black players like forwards Sean McMorrow, who played one game for the Buffalo Sabres in 2002-03, and Dale Craigwell, who played 98 games for the San Jose Sharks from 1991-94.

“I think everyone should be celebrated for that amazing, incredible achievement, for making it that far as a player of African descent,” Barnes said. “I think it’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Finding the cards has required some detective work by Barnes, who cross-references lists of Black players with listings of cards on eBay and other sites.

He purchased his Fuhr card off eBay and followed that by obtaining Tony McKegney‘s rookie card, which holds sentimental value for Barnes.

McKegney became the first Black NHL player to score more than 40 goals in a season (1987-88) and scored 639 points (320 goals, 319 assists) in 912 games for the Buffalo Sabres, Quebec Nordiques, Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks from 1978-91.

“I met Tony when I was 13,” Barnes said. “I worked at a Buffalo Sabres hockey camp for younger kids in Burlington [Ontario]. It was very special to meet Tony, one of the few Black hockey players when I was playing minor hockey, and he was a very accomplished player.”

Barnes said he doesn’t have NHL cards for some players because they weren’t in the League that long, or weren’t in it at all. He has a minor-league card for Darren Lowe, the former long-time University of Toronto coach who played eight games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1983-84 after he became Canada’s first Black Olympic hockey player at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.

He couldn’t find a card for Val James, a forward who became the first United States-born Black NHL player when he debuted with the Sabres on Nov. 1, 1981, and played 11 games with Buffalo (1981-82) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (1986-87), so he had a James card made by an independent card manufacturer from Prince Edward Island.

Barnes’ collection also includes commemorative cards that were made by Upper Deck and In The Game Inc., to honor O’Ree and Herb Carnegie, who widely is considered the best Black player never to play in the NHL.

Carnegie was a dazzling center who played in the Quebec Provincial Hockey League, the Quebec Senior Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey Association Senior A League.

He was part of the Black Aces, professional hockey’s first all-Black line, which also featured his brother, Ossie, and Manny McIntyre.

Barnes also included Alton White, a forward who was the only Black player in the World Hockey Association from 1972-75, in his card collection.

Barnes is trying to determine how to display his collection publicly. He initially reached out to inquire about loaning it to the NHL and American Legacy mobile museum that toured League cities in 2019 and 2020 to celebrate Black achievement in hockey.

In the meantime, his hunt for cards continues. He’s looking for ones for Bernie Saunders, who became the fifth Black player in the NHL when he joined the Quebec Nordiques in 1979-80; Brian Johnson, who became the Detroit Red Wings’ first Black player in 1983; Justin Johnson, who played his first NHL game at 32 with the New York Islanders in 2014; forward CJ Suess, who played one game for the Winnipeg Jets in 2019-20; St. Louis Blues forward Dakota Joshua, who played 12 games for the St. Louis Blues last season; and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Daniel Walcott, who made his League debut as part of an all-Black line with Gemel Smith and Mathieu Joseph on May 10.

“Collecting these cards brings back lots of great memories of me aspiring to play in the NHL, and smelling the bubblegum from the cards,” Barnes said.

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