I was 10 years old when I decided that I wanted to model my playing style off of “The Big E,” Eric Lindros — a now-retired Canadian hockey player and NHL Hall of Fame member. I wanted to dominate hockey the way he did. A number one overall NHL draft pick, Lindros was a big strong player who not only had a punishing physical presence on the ice but was also a bona fide team leader who knew how to score goals and make plays.

Eric Lindros was everything I wanted to be.

I watched and learned as much as I could from him through his highlight snippets and media
interviews. Before long, I began using practices and eventually games to try to move and play like Lindros. I became a vocal leader on my team, and started to take immense pride in showing that I could throw big hits and still serve my team as a top points-getter — all in the style of The Big E.

Modelling Lindros’ play paid off almost immediately, as I was named a team captain that same year, and ended up finishing the season tied for the scoring lead on my rep hockey team. During that season I had more fun (and scored more points) than I ever had playing hockey and have ever had since. As far as I was concerned, I was Eric Lindros’ second coming. And I had the points and penalty minutes to prove it. I was having a blast.

Then one moment changed all of that.

I’ll never forget the game. Things were good, my team was in the lead and I had scored another goal a few shifts earlier. It was late in the second period and I was at the end of a grueling shift. My legs burning and almost out of breath, I decided to try to make one more play before going to the bench for a shift change.

There he was, the star player from the other team breaking out of his end and skating into the neutral zone. I decided to act as if I was going to get off of the ice. But as I slowly moved towards the bench I watched him move closer to me through the corner of my eye. Then, when he was close enough, I quickly changed directions and bumped the player off the puck. The crowd cheered loudly at my cleverly crafted and well-executed surprise attack. Hurrraaahh!

Satisfied but exhausted, I immediately turned towards the bench and called for a
shift change. Then, as if I had carried the puck into open ice with my head down, my entire sense of self was hammered with a concussion-inducing blind-sided bodycheck. Kaboom!

“You f*cking nigger!!” the star player shouted out at me as I was skating away.

My heart just shattered. I stopped skating, and quickly turned around to look back at the player in disbelief and confusion. I could find no words and could barely breathe.

We were just 10 years old, but in the moment that our eyes met, I saw a meanness that was so overwhelmingly venomous and disempowering that I just burst into tears right there on the ice. This was the only response I could muster. I had never felt so alone, so helpless, so worthless, so hurt, so ashamed, so lost.

Finally, the referee halted play, and came over to grab the opposing player, tossing him out of the game for what he’d done.

A ten-minute match penalty for introducing me to the Black experience in Canada.