Grier, Salvador coach all-minority team to tournament championship

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An all-minority team coached by former NHL players Mike Grier and Bryce Salvador won the Beantown Summer Classic Tuesday, with the help of a British import.

Forward Mason Alderson’s goal with less than three minutes to play in the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and led the NextGen AAA Foundation to a 4-2 win against the Bombers. 

“This is like nothing that I’ve ever had,” said Alderson, who played at Berwick Academy in Maine last season and captained Great Britain at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship Division I, Group B in Hungary. “To be out there with that caliber of players — we had a Montreal [Canadiens] draft pick, a QMJHL goalie. It just goes to show that we can do as good as anybody, if not better.”

The NextGen team fulfilled its primary goal of winning the invitation-only tournament, which attracts NHL scouts, by going undefeated.

The team of 19 Black players and one Hispanic player was also successful in showcasing minority talent in hopes of attracting more players of color to the sport.

“This was an experience of a lifetime,” said forward Reggie Millette, a forward for Dubuque of the USHL who’s committed to playing for American International College in 2021-22. “I know that we did some big things out there and inspired a lot of people.”

The NextGen was stocked with collegiate and junior hockey talent that included Millette; Jordan Harris, a Northeastern University defenseman who was selected by the Canadiens in the third round (No. 71) of the 2018 NHL Draft; Ross Mitton, who played for Omaha of the USHL last season and will join Colgate in the fall; Christian Jimenez, a defenseman for Sioux City of the USHL and a 2021-22 Harvard University commit; and Davenport, who played for Victoria of the British Columbia Hockey League last season. 

For Grier, a New Jersey Devils assistant and the only Black assistant who worked behind the bench during NHL games last season, and Salvador, who was the third Black captain in the NHL when he played for the Devils, the tournament was also about helping players bond and strike up lasting friendships.

“I’m not a guy who gets too emotional, but it was at times a surreal experience,” said Salvador, who is a hockey analyst for MSG Network. “You’re in a locker room and you see a group of guys that are just 100 percent comfortable, not being judged, not thinking you’re being judged. You’re just hanging out and having a good time. It was nice to see that. It was an experience I never got to have as a player. So, it’s nice to see other players enjoy it.”

Goaltender Tyriq Outen said it felt like he and his teammates, who he had just met over the weekend, had been playing together forever.

“Right off the bat, everybody just clicked like we were a regular season team for years,” said Outen, who played for Grand Falls Rapids of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League last season and Acadie-Bathurst of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2018-19. 

The team was formed by NextGen AAA Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring and hockey programs to underprivileged youth and underserved communities. It was founded by Dee Dee Ricks, a philanthropist and hockey mom who has provided more than $1 million to help Black and brown student-athletes at some of the leading preparatory schools, colleges and travel hockey programs throughout North America.

Rod Braceful, the assistant director of player personnel for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program helped recruit players for the NextGen tournament team.

The NHL and Pure Hockey, the largest hockey retailer in the U.S., sponsored the team, which attracted a few fans to the Exeter, New Hampshire rink for the tournament. 

Bryant McBride, who was the first Black executive in the NHL during the 1990s and the architect of the League’s Diversity Task Force, the predecessor of the Hockey Is For Everyone initiative, made the one hour drive from Boston Tuesday to watch the game. He spoke to the NextGen players in the locker room afterward. 

“It’s really special to see all those kids from all over get a chance to do this,” said McBride, executive producer of “Willie,” the documentary about Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the NHL. “I never had a teammate of color, ever. I just let them know that they were an amazing first. And they had a real sense about how special it was.”

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