Hockey Nova Scotia names two awards recognizing former NHLer Bill Riley

William “Bill” James Riley

Hockey Nova Scotia has announced two new awards honoring the achievements of former NHLer Bill Riley.

The Bill Riley Awards and Bill Riley Scholarships are named after William “Bill” James Riley from Amherst, who became the first African Nova Scotia to play at the NHL when he debuted on December 26, 1974. For Washington Capitals.

“This is a great honor from Hockey Nova Scotia and we are very proud to help inspire the next generation of great African Nova Scotia hockey players in the game,” Riley said in a news release published Monday.

The Bill Riley Award is presented annually to African Nova Scotian players who embody certain characteristics that Riley is known to demonstrate throughout his playing career. Some of the features described include “tenacious work ethic” and “passion for sports.”

Scarborough’s former NHLers Anthony and Chris Stewart hockey school keeps it going

Anthony and Chris Stewart

It has been 63 years since Willie O’Ree laced up his skates for the Boston Bruins becoming the first black player in the National Hockey League, paving the way for others.

Yet despite the league’s message of “hockey being for everyone,” only seven per cent of its players are visible minorities, a number that pales in comparison to other professional sports leagues.

The league currently has 90 BIPOC players in its system, with 44 of them active. In total, there are more than 700 players in the NHL.

Former NHLer Bill Riley, who played for the Washington Capitals in the 70s said he isn’t surprised that the numbers remain low, despite it being decades since O’Ree broke the colour barrier in the sport.

Riley, who was the third black player in the league, said the lack of representation of visible minorities on the ice comes into play and thinks there needs to be a connection made at the community level.

“They need to take some of these real good young black hockey players that we have into some of the poorer neighborhoods and put on a free hockey game or a free clinic or something,” said Riley.

“So these kids can see it and say … we can play hockey because as you know, growing up, the biggest majority of the black population is in the U.S. and their role models are coming out of the NBA, the NFL and the Major League Baseball,” he continued.

Former player Anthony Stewart, who spent over a decade in the NHL, said the lack of diversity on the ice is due to the socioeconomic factors that children and their families are facing.

“You have new families that come to Canada and they see the price of hockey. They’re like, ‘Well, no, we’re going to pick up a basketball. We’re going to pick up soccer.’ You know, the cost of ice is hundreds of dollars an hour, equipment and skates … so you’re at a disadvantage before you even touch the ice,” he continued.

The Scarborough native who runs a hockey school and coaches in the Greater Toronto Hockey League alongside his brother Chris, who also played in the league, has taken it upon himself to try and make things more affordable for the children in his programs.

Stewart wants to the see the league come up with commitments that would lower the costs and allow more children from diverse communities the chance to play, which he said is why the HockEquality initiative was set up.

“It’s about the movement. It’s not about any particular person and we’re just now trying to now make it more accessible. This is not just for black hockey players, it’s for LGBTQ, it’s for people with disabilities, it’s for girls,” said Stewart.

“There’s an underrepresentation of girls hockey all over the world, so we’re not trying to take a speedboat with a select group, we’re trying to take a cruise ship with everybody. And it may take a little bit longer to get there, but I’m in it for the long haul,” he said.