George Chin: A Hockey Star Overlooked, But Not Unseen
Star hockey players of Asian decent playing for the Chatham Maroons
Perhaps the best known players were brothers Mel Wakabayashi and Herb Wakabayshi. Born in internment camps, the duo went on to be NCAA All-Americans with Michigan and Boston University. Their older brother Don Wakabayashi also starred for the Chatham Maroons.
A decade prior however, another hockey player, George Chin, was playing for the Chatham Maroons, helping the Senior Maroons win the 1949-1950 International Hockey League’s Turner Cup.
George Chin was born in Lucknow, Ontario.
Of Chinese decent, Chin was one of 11 sons and 14 children in his family.
He, along with brothers Albert Chin and Bill Chin were the hockey stars of the bunch.
According to Detroit Red Wings scout Freddie Cox in 1944, “The three Chin boys from Lucknow are going to surprise everyone this winter. They’ll be ready for the big time before long.”
The talented trio earned an invitation to attend Toronto Maple Leafs training camp prior to the 1944-1945 season, where as a line, they turned heads throughout camp, and in the Blue and White game.
“The ones attracting the most attention in the games have been the three Chinese brothers, Albert, George and Bill Chin from Lucknow. Although on the small side and several steps away from top-flight hockey, the Chinese line made a big hit with the crowd with its clever passing, good stickhandling and aggressiveness,” the Toronto Daily Star wrote at the time.
After a strong showing, the trio were released, a move which was mocked by Toronto media as George Chin, who was only 15 at the time, went home and started lighting up his juvenile league.
“George Chin, a 15-year-old who laughed his way through Leafs training camp last fall, scored all 12 of his juvenile team’s goals at Kincardine Saturday night,” The Toronto Star wrote. “Hadn’t we better send for him, Hap?”
Only two days later, George Chin scored another 6 goals in a game, prompting The Star to again call, this time on Maple Leafs scouts to bring the brothers back. “Maybe Squib Walker should hustle out to Lucknow and scout the kids all over again as a Leafian front line threat!”
Despite their success, no NHL offers came, which at the time in history, speaks to the segregation and racism Black, Asian, and Indigenous hockey players faced.
For players of Chinese decent like Chin, the Chinese Immigration Act, which suspended almost all Chinese immigration to Canada, would not be repealed until 1947.
Had any of the Chin brothers been signed to an NHL contract and appeared in a game in 1944-45, they would have been the first non-white player in NHL history.
The NHL colour barrier was broken in 1948 by another player of Asian descent, Larry Kwong. Kwong was the leading scorer of the New York Rangers farm team, and was called up for a game against the Montreal Canadiens. Kwong was benched the entire game, before playing a single shift in the final minute of the game. It was Kwong’s first, last, and only shift in the NHL.
Racism held players of colour back. According to George Chin, he faced regular racist slurs on the ice growing up.
“When we played in places like Goderich, Kincardine, and Hanover, we heard the occasional racial taunt. It was stuff like, ‘Kill that ch—-!’ We just shrugged it off and tried to score another goal to beat them,” he told The Star.
The following year, George Chin joined the Windsor Spitfires in their inaugural season, scoring more than a point per game for the team in 1946-47, collecting 31 points in only 24 games.
Two seasons later, in 1949-1950, George Chin joined the Chatham Sr. Maroons, where he helped the team win the IHL’s Turner Cup.
Chatham beat the Detroit Auto Club playing at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, and then the Sarnia Sailors in the league final, including packed games at the brand new Chatham Memorial Arena, built in 1949.
Chatham then defeated the Toledo Buckeyes to win the Eastern United States Amateur Championship, but due to financial issues, could not travel to play Spokane for the National championship.
After this storied season, which earned Chin and his teammates a spot in the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, George Chin headed to play for the University of Michigan Wolverines.
Here he led Michigan to back-to-back National championships in 1952 and 1953, leading the team in playoff scoring both years and earning NCAA All-Tournament First Team honours.
After graduating, Chin played one year of professional hockey for the Nottingham Panthers in England before retiring from the game. He was later inducted into the Michigan Dekers Hall of Fame in 1977 and was listed as 36th best player in Michigan Wolverines history in 2018, a list which includes Chatham’s Mel Wakabayashi at number 21.
George Chin was a groundbreaker in Ontario and Michigan hockey. A star of the times, in the 176 games on record played by Chin in Junior, College, and Professionally, he scored an incredible 268 points.
One can only wonder if George Chin had been born in a different time, if we wouldn’t be counting him among the most skilled to wear a Maple Leafs or Red Wings jersey at the NHL level.
By Ian Kennedy