Fans push for Larry Kwong's induction to Hockey Hall of Fame, 75 years after he broke NHL's colour barrier

·4 min read
In March 1948, Larry Kwong played one shift late in the third period for the New York Rangers in a game against the Montreal Canadiens at the old Montreal Forum. He was the first person of colour to play in the NHL.  (Larry Kwong - image credit)
In March 1948, Larry Kwong played one shift late in the third period for the New York Rangers in a game against the Montreal Canadiens at the old Montreal Forum. He was the first person of colour to play in the NHL. (Larry Kwong - image credit)

Nearly 75 years after Larry Kwong broke the colour barrier in the NHL, a group of dedicated fans is pushing to have him inducted posthumously into the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF).

Kwong was born in Vernon, B.C., and earned accolades for his skill as a centreman, leading his minor hockey team to a provincial championship at age 16.

In 1948, as the leading scorer for the minor-league New York Rovers, Kwong was called up by the New York Rangers and played one shift late in the third period in a game against the Montreal Canadiens at the old Montreal Forum.

The move by the Rangers to put Kwong on the ice is now seen widely as a publicity stunt, but with that 60-second shift Kwong became the first person of colour to play in the NHL.

His NHL career was short lived, however, with the Rangers sending Kwong back to the minors following the game.

Disappointed by his brief stint in the NHL, Kwong left the Rangers to play professional hockey in Quebec, facing off against the likes of hockey legend Jean Beliveau. In 1957, Kwong moved to Europe where he played and coached hockey for more than 15 years.

Sharing Kwong's story

It's a story elementary school teacher Chad Soon has been telling to his students for more than a decade in Kwong's hometown of Vernon.

"I just want to keep sharing this story because as a teacher I really see how inspiring it is to kids," Soon said.

Soon learned about Kwong from his grandfather. He contacted Kwong after he moved to Vernon, eventually developing a close friendship with Kwong, who was in his late 80s at that time and living in Calgary.

CBC
CBC

"Larry was very modest. That was the thing with his generation and my grandparents' generation ... they didn't speak about the discrimination they faced," Soon said.

"He always wore a smile, despite all the things he faced — all the unkind treatments, he never let it stop him."

In 2013 Soon helped lead a charge to have Kwong's contributions recognized in the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame that year.

HHOF induction bid

Now Soon is part of group of Kwong supporters calling for his induction as a builder to the 2023 class of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

If successful, Kwong will join an exclusive group of hockey players, coaches and executives in the builder category, including Willie O'Ree and Herb Carnegie — other players of colour who contributed to diversifying the game of hockey.

Chad Soon
Chad Soon

An online petition calling for Kwong's HHOF induction has garnered more than 1,000 signatures in less than a week.

It was started by Chris Woo, who runs a website and Instagram page championing the achievements of hockey players of Asian descent from where he lives in California.

'A special year for all things Larry Kwong'

"Over the recent years the NHL and hockey in general has made tremendous strides in celebrating diversity," Woo said, adding: "2023 represents an important year because that would be the 75th anniversary of Larry's historic game with the New York Rangers. As well, if Larry were still alive, it would have been his 100th birthday, so the 2023 really does mark a special year for all things Larry Kwong."

CBC
CBC

Getting Kwong into the HHOF will be no small task. Only one or two people are inducted as builders each year after an extensive election process, which involves being nominated by one of 18 selection committee members.

"This is going to be an incredibly difficult process," said Moezine Hasham, who sat on the NHL's Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee from 2019 to 2021 and runs the Hockey 4 Youth charitable organization.

Hasham grew up in B.C. and says he was inspired by Kwong's story as a young player of South Asian descent.

Kwong's story inspires youth

Hasham hopes to use his connections in the hockey world to promote Kwong's story.

"All we can do is put our best foot forward and gather everything we need to showcase Larry for who he was, not only as a hockey player but as a person who gave back to his community, who gave back to Canada, who gave back to Switzerland," he said.

Having role models like Kwong recognized at the highest levels of hockey is important to further diversify the sport and make it something all Canadian kids can see themselves playing, he said.

"That will inspire young people to believe that they are part of the game, that they have always been a part of the game."