In honor of Black History Month, TheFHN will be featuring bios on all the black hockey players who have played in the NHL each day throughout the month.
Brian Johnson played one season in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings in the 1983-84 season. Johnson was the first black player in Red Wings history. Johnson would play in 3 games for the Red Wings before returning to the Adirondack Red Wings of the AHL.
Johnson played the majority of his professional career in the minors for Adirondack, the Dallas Black Hawks, Carolina Thunderbirds and the Indianapolis Checkers. During his time in the AHL, Johnson racked up an impressive 676 penalty minutes in only 190 games.
When Johnson played in exhibition games at The Joe, one beligerent fan wanted to know, “Why aren’t you playing basketball?” Some opponents called him “n*****.” Even a Red Wings teammate couldn’t resist saying, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” when the locker-room conversation turned to food.https://www.vintagedetroit.com/blog/2015/01/31/brian-johnson-first-black-red-wing/
Darren Lowe’s hockey career encompassed several of hockey’s first in the games history. Lowe was the first black olympic hockey player, competing in the 1984 Winter Olympics.
After the Olympics, Lowe signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins and was the first black player in Penguins history. In 1984, Lowe captained the Canadian National team where he helped Canada win the Spengler Cup. After spending one season in the NHL, Lowe would cotinue his professional playing career in Europe, the most notably the IHL for the Flint Spirts and San Diego Gulls.
After retiring in 1991, Lowe began his coaching career as an assistant with the University of Toronto and became head coach for the 1995-96 season, where he is believed to be the first black person to lead a Canadian college team. Lowe would remain as head coach until stepping down in 2017, a span that saw him coaching for 22 years which was the longest in university history.
Dirk Graham began his NHL career with the Minnesota North Stars during the 1983-84 season. After stints in the minor leagues, with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles (CHL) and Springfield Indians (AH) he would return to the NHL during the 1984-85 season. In 1988 he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. Graham would play 8 seasons with the Blackhawks and would become the first NHL captain of African descent during the 1988-89 season.
In Graham’s first season with the Blackhawks, he would score 33 goals with 10 coming while shorthanded. This record stands with Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Marcel Dionne as being the only other players to achieve ten or more short handed goals in a season. Graham would score 20 or more goals for the Blackhawks four times during his playing career.
In 1991 he was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy for excelling in the defensive aspects of the game. The following season Graham captained the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final where they were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After retiring in 1995, Graham would serve as an assistant coach and a scout for the Blackhawks. In 1998 he would be named head coach marking another first in NHL history. Graham would coach 59 games for the Blackhawks before being replaced prior to the season’s end.
Eldon “Pokey” Reddick
Pokey Reddick made his NHL debut in the 1986-87 season with the Winnipeg Jets. He would appear in 48 games sharing time with Daniel Berthiaume where they were nicknamed “Pokey and the Bandit”
Prior to the 1989-90 season, Reddick was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. During the season, he would split time between the NHL and the minor leagues including stints with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the IHL and Cape Breton Oilers of the AHL. During the 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Reddick would appear in one playoff game for the Oilers and served as the backup to Bill Ranford due to an injury to Grant Fuhr. Reddick would become the second black player in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup, with both players being members of the Oilers.
After the Stanley Cup championship, Reddick would spend the majority of his career in the minor leagues. During the 1992-93 season, Reddick would backstop the Fort Wayne Komets of the IHL to their first Turner Cup championship in 20 years. Reddick was named playoff MVP after bosting a historic playoff sweep going 12-0 during the playoffs and sporting a 1.49 GAA.
After the Turner Cup, Reddick would sign with the Florida Panthers and appeared in two games for the club. He would return to the IHL and play for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Las Vegas Thunder, Grand Rapids Griffins, San Antonio Dragons and Kansas City Blades before returning to the Fort Wayne Komets in the 1998-99 season. He would play in Europe for the Frankfurt Lions before returning to Fort Wayne in 2002 who were now members of the UHL after the IHL folded.