Soul on Ice

As one of hockey's few black players, the Aeros' Graeme Townshend has had to pick his fights carefully

Townshend also sees hockey as something more than the dream career of a Toronto schoolkid. Though he admits it only after some prodding, Townshend says he believes there's a spiritual element to his hockey success: he hopes, he says, it will encourage black kids to try fields they may think are closed to them. For the past two summers, Townshend has coached at the Ebony Skills Hockey Camp in Toronto. "When I work at that camp with 100 kids, 90 of them are black," Townshend says. "And I can see the hunger in their eyes, looking at me, [thinking] 'Wow, maybe I can do it, too.' I was surprised, the first time I went, to see that many black kids in one [ice] arena. I almost cried. The camp is a great concept. If I had enough time in Toronto, I'd run it myself."

Instead, Townshend has another goal, one that may take more than a summer to reach. He wants to write a book. "The theme would be to inspire young black kids," Townshend says. "Well -- all kids. But I would have liked to know more about [black hockey player] Tony McKegney when I was growing up. I wish he'd written a book. I think more black men in corporate America would do stuff like that if they knew how much it would mean."

Even today, though, Townshend won't pretend that judging emotional and racial contests ever gets simple. A stepfather who won't spank his child, and a hockey player whom most teammates expect to take trash talk in stride, Townshend says he still doesn't regret decking that New York Rangers player at the very start of his career.

"To this day I'm glad I did it," he says. "Because you know what? I've never heard that word since.

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