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.
Steven Fletcher was drafted 202nd overall by the Calgary Flames in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Fletcher would play in the NHL in parts with the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets over two seasons, appearing in four games. Fletcher was the first black player to suit up and play for the Montreal Canadiens.
Fletcher most notably played in the IHL for the Fort Wayne Komets where he was an integral part of the team’s Turner Cup championship in 1992-93 along with goaltender Pokey Reddick from our previous article. Fletcher would go on to play in six seasons with the Komets and be inducted into the Komets Hall of Fame as well as have his jersey #77 retired by the team in 2007.
It was in the IHL where one racial incident impressed Fletcher as to how good people can be. It happened in a game against the Indianapolis Ice, “I was being called a monkey and bananas were thrown on the ice,” he said. “After that, I got an apology from their general manager and letters from fans saying its okay to not like the opposing team but what those couple of fans did was just not right.”https://www.thesuburban.com/sports/former-maroon-steven-fletcher-understands-what-jonathan-diaby-went-through/article_e4319a6e-c0dc-5bf2-9782-87139a667dd1.html
Claude Vilgrain was drafted 107th overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. Prior to being drafted, Vilgrain was a high scoring forward for the Laval Voisins of the QMJHL, the University of Moncton and the Canadian National Team. Vilgrain would make his debut in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks during the 1987-88 season and go on to play in 89 games with the Canucks, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. In the 89 games, Vilgrain scored 53 points most notably with the Devils. In 1988, he played in the Olympics for Team Canada. To date, Vilgrain is the only NHL player born in league history to be born in Haiti.
“When I played it wasn’t that easy. I’m not going to say I had a tough time, especially after talking to Willie O’Ree. I’m never going to complain,” he told me. “But I know every time I stepped on the ice, the eyes were turned towards me and they were wondering ‘Is this a black kid?’ It was even worse in Europe, especially when I was on the national team. We would play in places like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. Every time I stepped on the ice, the looks, the cameras, the interviews. They couldn’t believe there were black hockey players.”https://colorofhockey.com/tag/claude-vilgrain/
Paul Jerrard was drafted in the 9th round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. Jerrard would play four years at Lake Superior State University and in the IHL before making his NHL debut with the Minnesota North Stars during the 1988-89 season. Jerrard woud appear in five games for the North Stars before continuing his professional career mainly in the IHL with the Kalamazoo Wings.
After retiring with the Hershey Bears of the AHL in 1997, Jerrard would career would take him into coaching both at the collegiate and professional level. He would return to his alma mater for four seasons and have a coaching resume in the NHL, AHL and college hockey that spans over 20 years. Currently he is an assistant coach for the Omaha Mavericks of the NCHC.
Mike McHugh was drafted in the NHL by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1988 NHL Supplemental Draft as the first pick. After four seasons with the University of Maine, McHugh go on to primarily play in the IHL with the Kalamazoo Wings. During his time in the minors, McHugh would appear in 12 games over three seasons with the North Stars.
In 1991, he would join the San Jose Sharks in the 1991 NHL Dispersal Draft. McHugh would go on to appear in eight games for the Sharks during their inaugural season and scored his only NHL goal and point with the club. After the first eight games of the season, McHugh was traded to the Hartford Whalers but would never see NHL action again during his career.
After being traded, McHugh was assigned to the AHL and would go on to have a dynamic AHL career over the next seven seasons. While a member of the Hershey Bears, he would score nine goals and seven assists in the 1997 Calder Cup Playoffs helping the Bears win the championship as well as being named the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy recipient for playoff MVP.