Ice hockey, by nature of being a sport developed by British colonialists, has largely been made up of teams of people who can trace their ancestry to the British isles, the Nordic regions of Europe, or European Russians.

However, Canada and the United States have become increasingly diverse nations over the last 60 years or so.

Which players were among the first to break color barriers in ice hockey? I'm referring to the ice hockey equivalents of Jackie Robinson or Masanori Murakami, or Steve Bellán.

2 Answers 2


Here's a timeline of some of the notable milestones:

1948: Larry Kwong appears for the New York Rangers; he was the son of Chinese immigrants to Canada.

Larry Kwong

1958: Willie O'Ree, playing for the Boston Bruins, is the first black player to play in the NHL. He has been called the Jackie Robinson of the NHL.

Willie O'Ree

1989: Robin Bawa, the first Indian player, joins the Washington Capitals.

Robin Bawa

1989: Bill Guerin becomes the first Hispanic player in the NHL. One of the top scorers ever in the league, he will likely be elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible. He won two Stanley Cups in his 18-year career, during which he played for eight different teams.

Bill Guerin

1990: Jim Paek is the first Korean player, playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins and eventually winning two Stanley Cups with them.

Jim Paek

1994: Paul Kariya is the first player of Japanese descent as he joins the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and later becomes the first player of Asian descent to score 50 goals in a season.

Paul Kariya

2003: Jordin Tootoo is the first Inuit player in the league. He is still playing for the Nashville Predators as of this writing.

Jordin Tootoo

Other Sources

Willie O'Rea, Hockey Pioneer [pdf]
List of ice hockey players of Asian descent
List of ice hockey players of Middle Eastern descent (not used as categorization is difficult)

  • Technically I didn't, but they're there all the same... Sep 6, 2012 at 21:05
  • Fine, all the love to @edmastermind29 :P
    – Aarthi
    Sep 6, 2012 at 21:20
  • 2
    @Aarthi freely received...freely given :D
    – user527
    Sep 6, 2012 at 22:53

Willie O'Ree is the considered the first African American to play professionally in the NHL. He was a right winger on the Boston Bruins during the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons. He didn't see much playing time after the 1957-58 season due to an eye injury resulting in 95% blindness in his right eye.

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Go Bruins!


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