Mike Marson Was The Second Black Player In NHL History…And A Chatham Maroon
When you hear about the history of Black hockey players in the NHL, most know about Willie O’Ree, who broke the NHL’s colour barrier in 1958 when he appeared for the Boston Bruins.
Did you know however, that it wasn’t until 16-year-later that the NHL saw another Black hockey player step onto the ice?
That player was former Chatham Maroons forward Mike Marson who became the NHL’s second Black player when he broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old with the Washington Capitals in 1974-45.
Marson played for the Chatham Maroons in 1971-1972, alongside fellow future NHLers Ken Houston and Randy MacGregor.
After playing for the Chatham Maroons, Marson spent two seasons with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, scoring 94 points in 69 games in 1973-74. His performance made him the 19th overall pick in the 1974 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals.
The next season, only three years removed from Chatham, Marson played 76 games for the NHL’s Washington Capitals, scoring 28 points.
Little has been told in Chatham-Kent about Mike Marson, partly due to the fact that many online databases don’t show full Chatham Maroons rosters from that era.
The idea that it took 16-years to welcome the NHL’s second Black player reeks of the issues in hockey, the barriers Marson faced, and racism.
In his ascent to the NHL, Marson was inspired by Canada’s Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau, stating the messages he was hearing from government leaders, helped him to see possibility in his own future.
“We had the original ‘Trudeau-mania’ going on, and its message was that you could do anything you want regardless of your race, creed or color as long as you applied yourself to it. The whole thing in Trudeau’s perspective was, ‘Why shouldn’t you be allowed? You’re black? Well, why shouldn’t you be able to play in the National Hockey League and play at Maple Leaf Gardens? Why not?”
With that as motivation, Marson climbed the ranks rapidly, but not without facing racism.
As Marson recalled, “It was a daily issue of things that were almost mind blowing. There were times when I was refused lodging in hotels and the team would have to stick up for me. Or entering an arena like say, Madison Square Garden, and being questioned by security staff because there were no black hockey players. So, to their credit, they were asking the right questions, only to find out that yes, I was playing for Washington. For me, this was a daily thing. You’d go to pre-board an airplane and you’re questioned – ‘Well sir, I’m sorry this is just for the hockey players.’ I dealt with this kind of business all the time.”
When he made the NHL, Marson was one of a kind.
“It wasn’t just that I was a 19-year-old kid playing professional hockey, I was the only kid in the world who was Black and playing at that time. And with all of the different social ramifications and setups that were going on at that time in America, it was completely unheard of.”
For Marson, it was an endless, and lonely battle.
“It was like one man against the entire social order of life in North America. And how does he stand up against it? It was endless,” he said.
Representation matters. It’s impossible to track how many Black hockey players saw themselves in Marson, and how his presence in the game has helped move hockey forward. If it wasn’t for Willie O’Ree’s NHL career, Marson may not have thought it to be possible, either.
“I remember the first time we all watched Willie O’Ree and I said to my uncle and dad, ‘I want to do that.’ I want to be a hockey player,” Marson recalled.
In total, Mike Marson played 196 games in the NHL, and over 400 professional hockey games in his career. All but 3 of his NHL games came for the Capitals. He finished his NHL career with a brief stint for the Los Angeles Kings in 1979-1980.
An impressive impact and career to add to Chatham Maroons history.
By Ian Kennedy