Flash Frozen (Part Three)

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: January 18, 2008

“There are plenty of guys in the Hockey Hall of Fame right now who couldn’t have carried his skates. He was the black Jean Beliveau.”

–Hall of Fame National Hockey League referee Red Storey on Herb Carnegie

PHILADELPHIA — Every Goal Brother who laced up the skates all acknowledge and are indebted to the great Willie O’Ree’s fortitude and courage in paving the way for them in professional hockey.

50 years later, there are signs of progress, but for every sign, there has been roadblocks hindering and co-opting futures, depriving some of the chance to play what they feel is the greatest team sport.

But even on or off the ice, there are those rare individuals whose talents transcend societal limitations and inflect their humanity through even the most inhumane of situations.

On the ice, Herb Carnegie was untouchable. One of the smoothest skaters and play makers to ever grace a rink, Carnegie, along his brother Ossie and teammate Manny McIntyre, were the Black Line, scoring and checking their way through the semi-pro leagues in Canada.

After being contacted by the New York Rangers soon after Jackie Robinson had broken the color line in baseball, Carnegie was offered a contract to play with a minor-league affiliate in New Haven, but turned it down because it was less money than what he was earning back in Quebec.

“I had three kids and a wife to consider,” said Carnegie, speaking from his home north of Toronto. “I felt I had proven that I could play (in training camp) and it wasn’t something felt or spoken out of arrogance.”

It wasn’t just Carnegie who felt that way. Beliveau, who played with Carnegie on the Quebec Aces before moving on to the Montreal Canadiens, has said as a matter of public record through the years that had Carnegie been given the opportunity to play in NHL, he no doubt would’ve have been a star.

From a human standpoint, it would take tremendous resolve to not allow the sting of racism to do damage to the soul. Carnegie wouldn’t allow it. “I knew where my priorities lay,” recalled Carnegie. If I wasn’t going to New York, I wasn’t going. It had nothing to do with lack of skill or ability; and that realization made it a tough time.”

Aces Take Flight

– I will develop a positive mental attitude toward all people and toward my work.

– I will develop my talents and ability in order that I may be helpful to society.

– I will take action with integrity.

– I will take initiative to achieve my goals with honest and sincere effort.

As dreams of the NHL went up in flames, Carnegie would take the ashes of those dreams and cultivate them into a resource which would nourish the spirits of all Canadians. “I had a desire to teach — to lead by example. So I started a skating school, the very first of its kind, in 1956.”

But more than teaching how to skate, Carnegie’s commitment to positive change would manifest itself in a simple creed:

– I will co-operate and respect others by seeking understanding with all people, regardless of color, race, gender or beliefs.

– I will demonstrate courage, standing for what is right and speaking out against what is wrong.

– I will display confidence in my actions without being arrogant.

While Carnegie sensed he was onto something significant, a future revelation in 1961 confirmed his direction. “I was watching the American president, John F. Kennedy, giving a speech; it was the one where he said the words, ‘ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ I had written similar words before I opened the school, and they would become the creed in which Future Aces would develop.”

– I will show empathy and consideration by advancing the values that are important to me and others.

– I will set a good example to others, taking responsibility for my actions.

– I will acquire the best education within my capability.

Carnegie’s efforts would be rewarded as it became clearer his message went beyond lacing up skates. “It was not enough to just skate; there had to be a vehicle to further help them to feel good about themselves.

For that concept to work; the message had to be positive, but simple; reinforcing to the young people that ‘when I feel good, I can do good things.’”

– I will be of service to others.

– I will practice good sportsmanship in all my decisions, demonstrating fair play to all.

Attitude, ability, action, achieve.

Co-operate, courage, confidence.

Empathy, example, education.

Service & sportsmanship.

These buzz words were given life through Carnegie’s desire to make whole what hypocrisy, racism and ignorance tried so hard to shatter.

In 1987, the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation was born as a full-blown, full grown agency for change. Carnegie’s influence had expanded well beyond enjoying a game of shinny.

Working with public schools, community groups and organizations throughout Canada, the Foundation would work with students and teachers to facilitate a mandate of promoting harmony while deterring bullying, violence and racism in the schools.

Since the Foundation’s existence, over $400,000 has been provided in scholarship funding for young people who show exemplary citizenship qualities.

His daughter, Bernice Carnegie, who heads the foundation as its executive director, says the commitment and competitive fire she sees in her father never died.

“My father became a champion in golf, winning several senior titles,” recalls Carnegie fille. “That Future Aces would become so important is a tribute to his will.”

Accolades would come at Carnegie like a three-on-two rush. A honorary doctorate, an elementary school (to be named after Carnegie in Vaughn County, northwest of Toronto); and induction into several Halls of Fame, including the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.

In 2004, Carnegie was awarded the Order of Canada Medal, the highest recognition given to a Canadian civilian.

At 88 years young, Carnegie indicates little sign of slowing down. “My desire is to have the Future Aces philosophy go worldwide — because it talks about cooperation and communication.

Wars killed my grandparents; and those wars create more wars. You can win the war — but you lose the peace.”

Apparently, there is at least one entity in Canada that remains cool to Carnegie’s credo; and they are right back where we began — the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Just as Major League Baseball created a wing in recognition of its disgraceful treatment of Black players, could a possible scenario be in effect for Black hockey players like Carnegie who were denied their chance to contribute their love of the game to the national pastime?

Although the NHL would develop a Diversity Task Force, in the opinion of this writer, they never saw fit to offer sufficient assistance to facilitate BASN’s or other Black magazines interviewing some of the current NHL players, seeming more concerned with circulation numbers and wanting to “see what we looked like” than exposure for the sake of promoting those who play for the love of their game.

In spite of the negatives, a consideration like a Heroes Wing should be a moral imperative; so this Black Ace can finally be where he rightly belongs.