Petition launched to recognize 1st Black pro hockey coach


MONTREAL (AP) — A grassroots effort is underway to get professional hockey’s first Black coach, John Paris Jr., into the Hall of Fame.

Hockey Nova Scotia launched a petition dubbed “Paris to Toronto” on Feb. 1, calling on the Nova Scotia-born Paris to be recognized for his contributions to the game.

Paris, 76, said Tuesday in an interview from Halifax that all the attention was unexpected.

“It’s humbling, I can most certainly say that,” he told The Canadian Press, “just the fact that they took the time to even think of me, regardless of the results.”

Paris has a number of firsts on his resumé, including the first Black coach in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the first Black scout in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, the first Black general manager in professional hockey and the first Black professional hockey coach, leading the Atlanta Knights to a Turner Cup in the now-defunct International Hockey League.

Despite the long list, he doesn’t see his career as a succession of broken barriers.

“Well, what I’ve always said is that I’m Black by nature and I’m a coach by choice, and there’s a difference,” Paris said. “I know what color I am, everybody knows it when they see me, that has nothing to do with my participation as a coach — that’s a decision.”

Paris is still involved in hockey, working as an outside consultant to help some NHL players with their performance.

Dean Smith, diversity and inclusion chair at Hockey Nova Scotia, says one of the recommendations from a task force created in 2019 to look at racism and discrimination in the sport was to find ways to recognize and highlight contributions from those in under-represented communities.

Smith said the more he learned about Paris, the more surprised he was that he wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame, calling him “so modest and so humble.”

“He loves to talk about hockey, he loves to convey his experience to young junior coaches like myself, but he will never sell himself,” Smith said. “I think that is our job now — to make sure that his accolades and his accomplishments … are recognized by the highest levels of hockey.”

An official with the Hockey Hall of Fame said the deadline for public submissions is March 15. A selection committee meets not long after the Stanley Cup Final ends to consider candidates. Admission requires three-quarters of the 18-member committee to agree.

Paris acknowledges he’s a little uncomfortable with the attention. On Monday, he was given a standing ovation while attending a QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads game.

The petition had amassed 2,300 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.


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