Alton White suited up in eight different jerseys during his professional hockey career.
But despite his skill level being worthy of an NHL career, he never got to skate in that league.
“When I was growing up, everybody used to say, ‘Well, you’re going to be another Willie O’Ree,'” White told Global News. “Everybody’s goal in Winnipeg growing up was to play in the NHL.
“I thought I was good enough, but, you know, and my stats show that I could have played. I could put the puck in the net, I could skate. But everybody, for some reason or another, they say, ‘Well, maybe he’s too small. I don’t think you can handle it.'”
White started making headlines and putting up serious numbers as a teenager. He ripped up junior hockey and was a regular fixture on the scoresheet.
He also shared the ice and dressing room for three seasons with the father of Jay Janower (one of the authors of this story), Walter.
“Wally always had a smile on his face,” White said.
“We grew up together. We’re kids, we’re friends. And when you’re friends like that, there’s no colour difference. You know, you’re colourblind.”
Unfortunately, that all changed during White’s first season as a pro down in Fort Wayne, Ind., where for the first time in his life, the colour of his skin was in sharp contrast to the Comets jerseys he sported and the ice he skated on.
“Fort Wayne, there was no mingling,” he said. “It’s Black and white, and they don’t get together very well. So at the games, I was the only Black player and in the stands, there were no Black faces.”
He even had trouble finding a place to live alongside his white teammates.
“The first few places we went, they’d always say, ‘Oh, well, no, I don’t think so’,” White said.
They eventually found a nice four-bedroom place but White said the landlady told his teammate they could not live there because White was Black.
“And that’s the first time that really hit me,” he said.
White would go on to leave his mark on professional hockey. Aside from that first year in Fort Wayne, he would score no fewer than 20 goals a season.
Every February, during Black History Month, he reflects on the importance of recognition.
“When I played hockey, I was the only Black person,” he said.
“And now there’s more and more Black people getting involved or people of colour also getting involved. So I think is important because it shows that hockey is for everybody.”