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John Paris Jr., first Black coach in pro hockey, should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, petition states

By Creeson Agecoutay. Atlantic Bureau Chief, CTV National News

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    HALIFAX (CTV Network) — John Paris Jr. may be 76 years old now, but the first Black coach in professional hockey can still remember how his love of the game began.

At an early age, he would sit around the television to watch hockey with his father, John Sr.

“He would ask the questions pertinent to the game, or to an individual play or concept, and then I would answer,” Paris Jr. told CTV News.

That critical understanding would bring him to elite levels, later trying out for the Montreal Junior Canadiens and then the Chicago Blackhawks farm team, all while enduring racism, in the mid-1960s.

“My Dad had always said that if you’re accomplishing something or if you’re good at it, you’re always going to have someone that will find fault with you,” Paris Jr. said.

This Black History Month, there is a new push to finally recognize John Paris Jr. in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Although a sudden diagnosis of Crohn’s disease had ended his NHL dreams, Paris Jr. quickly shifted to coaching at a time when there were no Black coaches.

“I felt that I still had a responsibility towards the athletes that were surrounding me,” Paris Jr. said.

He would become the first Black coach in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the first Black scout in the NHL, and would lead the Atlanta Knights to win the International Hockey League Turner Cup in 1994.

Hockey Nova Scotia has now started a petition to induct Paris Jr. in the Hockey Hall of Fame, something that advocates say is long overdue.

“One of the things I think is often overlooked, not only the accolades and not only his accomplishments, but the atmosphere in which he’d done it, in a time when racism was overt, it was systemic,” Dean Smith, Hockey Nova Scotia’s Diversity & Inclusion chair, told CTV News.

Paris Jr.’s brother Percy appreciates his recognition, but said he wished the hockey decision makers would’ve inducted him without the need for a petition.

“Reaching the ranks and accomplishments that he did, there’s no question where he belongs,” he told CTV News.

“It would be much, much greater if the powers of hockey were leading the way.”

An ongoing push to recognize a man who paved the way for inclusion in Canada’s favourite game.

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Alexandra Mae Jones

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