Induct Larry Kwong into the Hockey Hall of Fame #ITSLARRYSTURN
Induct Larry Kwong into the Hockey Hall of Fame #ITSLARRYSTURN
Why this petition matters
The NHL’s color barrier was broken on March 13, 1948. On that day, Larry Kwong aka Eng Kai Geong, a Chinese Canadian hockey player, became the first person of Asian descent to play in the NHL. For those who do not know Larry’s story, he was born on June 17, 1923, in Vernon, British Columbia. He was the son of Chinese immigrants who owned a local grocery store in Vernon. Larry was the 14th of 15 children, and his father passed away when he was five, just before the start of the Great Depression. As such, the children spent their days going to school, performing chores, and helping in the family store.
Larry fell in love with hockey listening to the Toronto Maple Leafs games on the radio on Saturday evenings in the family's apartment above the store. He dreamt of one day playing in the NHL. At the time, Chinese Canadians’ employment opportunities were severely limited, as they were barred from many professions other than hard labor; Larry wanted something different for himself, and hockey presented that opportunity. His mother, fearing he would get hurt and not believing hockey was a realistic pursuit, initially refused to let him play hockey. Larry tearfully begged his mother to let him play and promised to buy her a house if he ever made it big in hockey. While she likely did not believe it would ever happen, his mother decided to not stand in the way of her son's dream.
Larry spent his youth playing hockey on outdoor ponds using $4 skates that were too big for his feet and discarded catalogs as shin guards.
His exceptional speed and skill made him a promising hockey prospect, as he won two provincial titles and jumped over both junior and intermediate hockey to earn a spot with one of Canada’s best senior teams, the Trail Smoke Eaters. Hockey was a temporary escape from the segregation surrounding Larry. While his hockey prowess was admired on the ice, he faced overt discrimination outside of the rink because of the color of his skin, as local barbers refused to cut his hair, he was denied jobs that were traditionally offered to other junior hockey players, and he wasn’t allowed to cross the Canadian border with his teammates for games because of the U.S.’s Chinese Exclusion Act. He hid such discrimination from his mother, as he feared she would pull him out of hockey if she ever learned of the disparate treatment.
During World War II, at the age of 20, Larry served his country by volunteering in the Canadian army and played for his base’s hockey team. After the war, Larry’s skills on the ice were noticed by scouts for the New York Rangers, who signed him to their minor league team, the New York Rovers, in 1946. In his rookie season, he tallied 37 points in 47 games. In his second season he led the Rovers in scoring with 86 points in 65 games. He also became a fan favorite of the Rovers and Chinese Americans in particular, as Asian heroes were few and far between at the time. While other teammates were called to don the red, white, and blue of the parent team, Larry had to wait. Finally, after two seasons, Larry received the call-up to the Rangers to play against the Montreal Canadiens on March 13, 1948, at the storied Forum.
The media promoted his debut as a curiosity, referring to him as the “China Clipper,” “King Kwong,” and “Chinese Puckster.” But Larry was so much more than a novelty act. Larry’s undeniable skill was affirmed by several hockey legends, including Toe Blake, Dickie Moore, Jean Beliveau, and Herb Carnegie. Larry spent most of the game on the bench and was only put on the ice for a single, 60-second shift in the third period. He was returned to the Rovers the next day, and he was never called up to play in the NHL again. Ever the consummate professional, Larry never dwelled on the negative or portrayed himself as a victim when describing his single shift. Rather, he remarked decades later, “It’s possible that I’ve been overlooked. Who knows? I felt that I did my share for the team.”
Larry went on to have a successful 16-year hockey career in the North American senior and minor leagues, which included being named MVP of the Quebec League. He later moved to Europe, where he played and coached for over a decade and is credited with growing the game in Switzerland. He also bought his mother the house he promised. Larry returned to Canada in 1972, and he passed away at the age of 94 on March 15, 2018, two days after the 70th anniversary of his NHL debut.
Larry’s achievement in breaking the NHL’s color barrier went largely unacknowledged until recent grassroots campaigns emerged to share Larry’s story. Since then, there have been modest ceremonies, regional awards, and news reports recognizing Larry. He has, however, never been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The NHL has made tremendous and admirable strides in celebrating its diverse history. Over recent years, minority trailblazers such as Willie O’Ree, Herb Carnegie, and Angela James, have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, either as players or builders (those celebrated for their contributions to the development of hockey). Respectfully, it’s Larry’s turn. It’s time to celebrate the man who broke the NHL’s color barrier. His 60-second shift laid the foundation for all NHL hockey players of color, especially those of Asian descent, such as Peter Ing (Chinese Canadian), Paul Kariya (Japanese Canadian), Jim Paek (Korean), Richard Park (Korean American), Robin Bawa (South Asian Canadian), and, more recently, Matt Dumba (Filipino Canadian) and Jason Robertson (Filipino American). As Asian involvement in the sport of hockey continues to grow in North America and beyond, it’s Larry’s turn to receive the recognition he deserves. An induction will ensure that his contribution is never forgotten.
It's only fitting that the long overdue induction occurs in 2023. March 13, 2023, will mark the 75th anniversary of Larry’s NHL debut; June 17, 2023, is the day Larry would have turned 100. Let’s give Larry his turn before the past is forgotten.
Please join me in signing this petition to support Larry’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.