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Herb Carnegie's Hall of Fame Nod a Long Time Coming

Denied entry into the NHL because he was Black, Carnegie was one of the best hockey players of the 1940s. Now, he's set to join the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder's category.
Herb Carnegie

When the Hockey Hall of Fame announced Herb Carnegie as part of their 2022 induction class, it was justice for Carnegie’s family and supporters.

Denied entry into the NHL because he was Black, Carnegie was one of the best hockey players of the 1940s. He was a three-time MVP in the Quebec Provincial League, and will enter the Hockey Hall of Fame joining other pioneers, including Willie O’Ree, in the Builders category

“It's the correct thing for the Hall to do, albeit, it's too late,” said hockey writer Arun Srinivasan, whose forthcoming book on racism in hockey will feature Carnegie’s story. “Carnegie's family has fought hard for his inclusion in the Hall…”

While Carnegie goes into the Hall, many, including Srinivasan, point to the inconsistent messages sent by the hockey world related to Black history and hockey players. Specifically, in the case of Carnegie, the issue of Conn Smythe and the Conn Smythe Trophy is a point of concern. During Carnegie’s dominance in the 1940s, Smythe, the long-time owner and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs racistly lamented about Carnegie’s skin color. In Carnegie’s words, Smythe stated that he “would take Carnegie tomorrow for the Maple Leafs if someone can turn him white.”

Srinivasan, who has studied Carnegie’s history, made it clear the legendary player belonged in the NHL. “Carnegie very well could've been the first Black player in the NHL,” he said. “He scored prolifically in every league he played in, and he should be taught about in the same vein as some of hockey's other legends.”

Hockey Hall of Fame member Jean Béliveau was a teammate of Carnegie’s in Quebec and regularly touted his skill. Béliveau himself acknowledged Carnegie’s exclusion from the game. In the foreword to Carnegie’s 1997 autobiography, A Fly in a Pail of Milk, Béliveau wrote, “It’s my belief that Herb Carnegie was excluded from the National Hockey League because of his colour.”

Carnegie was invited to try out with the New York Rangers in 1948 and was offered a minor league contract. He turned down the offer as he was making more money playing in Quebec, and saw less talented players signing NHL contracts with the Rangers while he was being sent to the minors. The offer came following Carnegie’s most successful offensive season in 1947-48 playing with the Sherbrooke Saint-François when he scored 48 goals and 127 points in 56 games.

Today, while hockey and the NHL continue to deal with issues of racism in the game, Carnegie’s legacy is growing. Specifically, his fight for inclusion continues through The Carnegie Initiative, an organization founded by Carnegie’s daughter Bernice, which aims “to ensure that hockey is inclusive, supportive and welcoming to all.”

During his life, Carnegie was the founder of the “Future Aces Hockey School,” which is believed to be one of the first-ever registered hockey school’s in Canada. As The Carnegie Initiative website states, Carnegie’s lasting impact began at the school, not only through teaching hockey skills, but by focusing on developing “justice, fair play and equity,” saying his “greatest contribution to society began by including a character development component along with hockey skills training.”

Herb Carnegie passed away at age 92 in 2012, believing he’d never be recognized by the National Hockey League or Hockey Hall of Fame. While his induction is posthumous, Carnegie’s family will be on hand when his name is enshrined as a builder in the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 14, 2022.

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