Color of Hockey: Lindo returns to Penguins to head community programs

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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 Jaden Lindo, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014 and returns to the organization as manager of its Community Hockey Programs.

Jaden Lindo is flipping the script again.

Lindo was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round (No. 173) of the 2014 NHL Draft and was a central figure in “Soul on Ice, Past, Present & Future,” a 2015 award-winning Black hockey documentary.

He’s adding a new chapter to the story by returning to the Penguins organization this month as manager of its Community Hockey Programs.

Lindo will oversee the Penguins’ Willie O’Ree Academy, the proposed hockey diversity program at Pittsburgh’s Hunt Armory, as well as hockey initiatives for the city’s youth.

“I couldn’t have scripted it any better,” the 25-year-old Brampton, Ontario, native said. “It seems like everything has kind of come full circle. What makes it the more special is the fact that I have previous ties with Pittsburgh, and for them to give another opportunity.”

The Penguins are excited about having him back in the fold. Jim Britt Jr., executive director of the Penguins Foundation, said Lindo’s name came up a dozen times around the NHL and hockey community about who would be the perfect fit for the job.

“Jaden has deep hockey experience and a passion to bring more diversity into our game, just like the Penguins,” team president and CEO David Morehouse said. “We’re thrilled to bring him back to Pittsburgh and further our work to make our hockey diversity programming the very best in the NHL.”

The O’Ree Academy, named after the NHL’s first Black player who made his debut for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal on Jan. 18, 1958, wrapped up its first session in August.

The free program provides experienced Black youth hockey players in the Pittsburgh region training and support in a safe space with hopes of allowing them to bond and develop into elite players capable of someday playing in college, juniors, or even the NHL.

The Penguins specifically wanted to hire a person of color to oversee the O’Ree Academy and the other hockey programs because the organization felt it’s important that “young players of color can see themselves in their coaches, staff and mentors we’re sending into the community,” Britt said.

“Jaden is unique in that he can speak exactly to the experience that we’re trying to create for the kids, so he is going to teach us a lot in this process too, I think,” Britt said.

Lindo’s experiences include playing forward for the Skillz Black Aces, predominantly Black tournament teams that included NHL players Joshua Ho-Sang, Brendan Lemieux and Robby Fabbri; five seasons with Owen Sound and Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League from 2012-17; powering Queen’s University to an Ontario University Athletics (OAU) championship in 2019 and being the captain of a team representing Jamaica that won the Amerigol LATAM Cup tournament the same year.

“I had an unbelievable career, starting off with the Skillz Black Aces, coached by C.J. Bollers,” he said. “That’s one of the things that reminded me of the Willie O’Ree Academy, the fact that you’re bringing in minority players into a centralized location, having those networks and the contacts and working with them.”

Lindo scored 114 points (56 goals, 58 assists) in 277 OHL games. He idolized Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds to the point that he lived in the same billet house and had the same room that Simmonds slept in when he played for Owen Sound.

“I definitely tried to follow in his footsteps,” Lindo said.

“Soul on Ice” filmmaker Kwame Damon Mason, co-host of the NHL’s “Soul on Ice: The Podcast,” followed Lindo at Owen Sound through the highs of awaiting the 2014 NHL Draft and the low of suffering a season-ending torn ACL that jeopardized his draft prospects.

The film reaches a dramatic arc when the Penguins select Lindo in the draft despite the injury, which required surgery. 

“Being drafted was a dream come true for me and a memory that I’ll cherish forever,” he said.

Lindo attended the Penguins development camp in July 2014 but wasn’t able to participate in practices and games because he was still recovering from his injury. He attended another Penguins camp in 2015.

Lindo went unsigned by Pittsburgh and his rights expired. Back in the OHL, he was traded by Owen Sound to Sarnia in 2016-17. He scored a career-high 35 points (21 goals, 14 assists) in 58 games in his final OHL season. 

He moved on to Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, where he scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 60 games from 2017-20. He had a starring role in winning the OUA title when he scored two goals in a 4-1 win against the University of Guelph and was named MVP of the game.

Lindo earned an undergraduate degree in health studies and was on his way to a graduate diploma in business at Queen’s when Britt and the Penguins came calling.

“After speaking with David Morehouse, I really got a strong feel that they were really passionate and truly care about increasing diversity,” Lindo said. “It seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to continue my hockey career in a different way, go down there, make a difference and hopefully influence the next generation of hockey stars.” 

Lindo’s competitive playing days aren’t over. He’ll suit up again for Jamaica at the 2021 Amerigol LATAM Cup, scheduled for Oct. 14-17 at the Florida Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, Florida.

“We definitely know that teams will be coming with their best effort to take the championship away from us,” he said. “But if they want to be the best, they’ve got to beat the best and we’ll be prepared.”

Photos: Jason Scourse, Kwame Damon Mason, Pittsburgh Penguins

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