The NHL is expected to mark the 75th anniversary of Larry Kwong breaking the league’s colour barrier next month as efforts continue to have him inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.
Kwong, a Vernon native who spent two seasons with the senior Trail Smoke Eaters in the 1940s, became the first Chinese Canadian to play in the NHL on March 13, 1948. Called up by the New York Rangers from their farm team, he played a single shift at the end of the game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Chad Soon, who is among those leading the charge to have Kwong recognized in the Hall of Fame, said they have been in discussions with the league and a few teams about marking the anniversary. He has a meeting scheduled Thursday with the Rangers and is hoping for a ceremony on March 14, the team’s first home game following the anniversary.
There have been other encouraging signs, Soon said. An online petition launched last fall calling for Kwong’s induction has now passed 8,500 signatures. The KIJHL has thrown its support behind the initiative and in October the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation provided a letter of endorsement calling Kwong a “great ambassador and builder of hockey.” He spent a decade helping to develop and popularize the game in Switzerland.
In December, at a ceremony in Toronto and four other trail blazers (Willie O’Ree, Fred Sasakamoose, Norm Maracle, and Paul Jacobs) were honoured with a plaque for breaking down racial barriers in hockey. Members of Kwong’s family were on hand to see it unveiled.
Last month the Calgary Flames also paid tribute to Kwong at their lunar new year game and presented a sweater to his family. Kwong lived in Calgary for many years until his death in 2018 at age 94.
Soon said the nomination to the Hockey Hall of Fame is due next month. “We will need somebody on the selection committee to advocate for Larry,” he said. “That’s the big question. Will someone step up to champion Larry’s nomination?”
The committee meets in April, with an announcement expected in June. Up to two builders are inducted each year.
Soon said they are also waiting to hear about their nomination to have Kwong inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame in Penticton as a builder. Soon has been trying to have Kwong inducted since 2009, but this is the first time his name has been submitted as a builder rather than a player. The nomination is good for three years, but the Hockey Hall of Fame nomination will have to be resubmitted if it is not successful this year.
Kwong already belongs to the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame.
“This being 2023 and with the 75th anniversary coming next month and Larry would have turned 100 in June, we’re really hoping it’s a big year for him,” Soon said. “Not only does he deserve it, but it’s time. It’s long overdue.”
On top of that, you can now buy some Larry Kwong swag. The organization Hockey 4 Youth is selling shirts and hoodies with Kwong’s photo on them. Half the proceeds will go toward starting a program in Calgary in Larry’s honor that encourages immigrant kids to try hockey.