This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.
It took four walk-arounds inside the downtown Minneapolis arena before we finally accomplished our simple goal: finding a Black fan. “I am very excited to be here,” admitted Isaac Johnson, a sixth grader from South Dakota.
The young man became the first and only Black fan the Only One encountered at last weekend’s National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Frozen Faceoff that crowned the league champion and automatic NCAA automatic bid earner at the Timberwolves-Lynx home arena. We ran into Johnson after two semifinals games, including North Dakota’s 1-0 shutout win over number-one Denver, and a third-place game before the title game, won by Minnesota Duluth after the puck went off a skater’s skate into the net to break a 3-3 tie with barely a minute left in the third period.
“I’ve been playing hockey as long as I can remember,” said Johnson, who’s a big NHL fan attending his first college hockey contest. P.K. Subban, who is among nearly 30 Black league players, is his favorite, and the Minnesota Wild is his favorite team. “I play center,” he pointed out.
Admittedly we almost gave up on finding any fan that looked like this reporter before we finally spotted the young Johnson, who was heading to his seat with his stadium food in both hands. Until then, all we saw were the usual Blacks we see at hockey games — the arena workers.
“I almost tripped,” said one such worker, “Dave” (not his real name), when he thought he saw a Black player on the ice. He was mistaken. None of the four clubs — winner Minnesota Duluth, runners-up North Dakota, third-place finisher Denver and Western Michigan — had any Black players.
“Sally” (not her real name), another worker, hadn’t seen any Black fans either, but she got her fill with too many non-Black fans who treated her rudely while she was only doing her job. She told us that a supervisor once stepped in when a man kept calling her “girl” as she was trying to direct him to his seat. The Black female worker wasn’t accustomed to working hockey games, and she complained of the chilling temperature inside for the ice.
Other Black workers just smiled almost like it was an inside joke whenever we asked if they had spotted any Blacks walking around who weren’t working there, including this reporter. Some offered “lots of luck” encouragement.
However, they didn’t run into Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant, who also attended the North Dakota-Minnesota Duluth title game last Saturday. “It’s a great sales pitch” to encourage hockey fans in town for the games to come back to downtown Minneapolis, declared Tennant. His organization and the NCHC have been partners in staging the annual Frozen Faceoff in downtown Minneapolis for four years now, the entire time the league has existed.
“It’s been a great four years, but we have a lot to do, a lot to build on,” noted NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton afterwards to the MSR.
Before the games, Fenton was told of our quest to find at least one Black fan at last weekend’s NCHC crowning event. When we told him that we had indeed reached our goal, he responded with a smile: “Good. I appreciate you being here.”
Gopher 100 update
Minnesota gymnasts Ciara Gardner and Paige Williams last weekend were named to the 25-member Big Ten All-Championships Team after their performances at the 2017 conference’s women’s gymnastics individual and team championships in New Jersey last Saturday.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.