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No Hall of Fame call for Smoke Eater Larry Kwong

Supporters of the late Larry Kwong say they won’t give up their bid to have the former Trail Smoke Eater inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Kwong’s name wasn’t among those announced for the hall Wednesday. Kwong, who was the first Chinese Canadian to play in the NHL, was nominated in the builder category. Instead, coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Pierre Lacroix were picked.

“I’m very disappointed Larry didn’t make it this year,” says Chad Soon, who was among those spearheading Kwong’s nomination.

“But after that initial disappointment you [realize] things don’t come easy. We had to wait a few years for a couple of other halls of fame Larry was finally inducted into. The goal was to make an impression, to get Larry’s name in that conversation.”

Soon said the hard part is not knowing how close Kwong came. After they submitted their 33-page nomination package in March including many testimonials, an 18-member committee reviewed the submissions and met this month to make their decisions. Each committee member can endorse one player and one builder.

However, nominators aren’t allowed to lobby committee members directly, so they don’t know whether anyone championed Kwong’s induction.

While Soon is optimistic Kwong’s day will come, he said this year would have been especially poetic as it marked the 75th anniversary of his lone game with the New York Rangers. He also would have turned 100 on June 17.

“Hopefully next year Larry can slide in at 101,” Soon said. “We certainly haven’t given up. All we can do is try.”

Kwong, who died in 2018, grew up in Vernon and played senior hockey for the Smoke Eaters in 1941-42 and 1945-46. Before and after his lone shift with the New York Rangers on March 13, 1948, he enjoyed an outstanding senior and minor pro career. He later coached in Europe.

Soon said they will resubmit their nomination next year and continue to add more letters of support. Already they have endorsements from hockey writer Stan Fischler, Sportsnet anchor David Amber, comedian Ali Hassan and others.

A petition on collected over 11,000 signatures, the highest number of any such petition for a Hockey Hall of Fame nominee.

“A whole bunch of people are coming forward now,” Soon said. “There’s also the injustice of it. Part of the push is to make Larry as famous as he deserves. It is the hall of fame, after all.”

Soon said Kwong was very humble and his biggest fans, Chinese Canadians and Americans, historically haven’t been very vocal about their experiences during that era. Nor have there been many Chinese Canadian sportswriters.

Soon further noted the Hockey Hall of Fame has traditionally been homogeneous: over 400 men are honored, while Carolyn Oullette, named as an inductee this week, will become just the 10th woman. There are also fewer than 10 minorities.

But Soon said Herb Carnegie’s induction last year gave him hope. Twenty years ago he never would have imagined Carnegie, an outstanding Black player of the 1940s and ’50s who was denied an opportunity in the NHL, would have any chance of getting into the hall.

And while Kwong’s NHL career only lasted a moment, Soon said it was nevertheless a huge achievement given everything he had to overcome to get there. Furthermore, Kwong had a global impact on the game, as he popularized the sport in Switzerland.

Soon said while Kwong awaits another shot at the hall, it’s important to keep his story alive.

“It’s about getting young people to learn about him, because for so many years his story was set aside and forgotten. I feel we’re trying to rescue the story and reclaim its place not just in hockey history but in the story of our country.”

Soon said as disappointed as he was to learn Kwong didn’t make the cut this year, he’s heartened by the people he’s met who have supported the campaign.

He’s also hoping to have Kwong inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame in Penticton and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary.

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