By RON FANFAIR
Angela James keeps breaking the colour barrier on many fronts. She is the only Black to captain a national women’s hockey team and the first Canadian woman to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
Last week, 45-year-old James cracked the gender barrier in the sport by joining American Cammi Granato as the first females to be inducted into the 65-year-old Hall.
Women were given an opportunity to be elected in their own category for the first time this year.
“This is a day I really never thought would have happened,” admitted James. “I look at this as being a great day for female hockey…On behalf of everyone in women’s hockey, I am truly honoured. As a kid, I went to the Hall and was in awe of those who had been inducted. I am delighted to be able to join them.”
James joins five-time Stanley Cup champion and Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach Grant Fuhr as the only Blacks in the Hall. He entered seven years ago.
“It’s significant anytime a woman is elected to a Hall of Fame,” said Eustace King, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) only Black certified agent. “At the end of the day, women are always trying to break barriers and sometimes they are held back.”
Considered the first woman hockey superstar, James dominated the sport at the Ontario College Athletics Association level where she was a three-time scoring champion and Most Valuable Player (MVP). As a defence player, she turned in the remarkable feat of scoring 50 goals for Seneca College in the 1984-85 season.
She was the leading scorer eight seasons and the MVP winner six times in the Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League (COWHL) and a four-time women’s world championships gold medallist.
At the inaugural World Championships in 1990, James netted 11 goals in five contests. Overall, she recorded 34 points in 20 games in the first four tournaments.
“She could do it all,” former COWHL rival and CBC Radio One host Robin Brown once remarked. “She had end-to-end speed, she had finesse as a stick handler and her slap shot was harder and more accurate than any female player I have ever seen. She was a pure goal scorer like Mike Bossy and aggressive like Mark Messier…She was the most revered as well as the most feared of all opponents. Nobody else came close. She dominated female hockey in southern Ontario.”
The two-time Seneca Female Athlete of the Year, whose # 8 was retired when she graduated, was inducted into the community college Hall of Fame and honoured with a Distinguished Alumni award six years ago.
A graduate of the college’s Recreation Facilities Management program in the early 1980s, James is Seneca’s senior sports co-ordinator responsible for the administration and co-ordination of sports and recreation leagues.
“Angela has spent her career breaking down barriers, setting records and inspiring the next generation of female hockey players,” said Seneca College’s president David Agnew. “We are so pleased to have such a high calibre athlete involved in Seneca sport and we are proud to call Angela a Senecan.”
Two years ago, the Angela James Bowl was created to honour the pioneer. It’s awarded to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s top goal scorer.
Flemingdon Park Arena where the mother of three first learned to skate and hone her hockey skills was renamed the Angela James Arena last June.
She is one of two Black women to have North American hockey arenas named after them. The Laura Sims Skatehouse, which was opened in 1985, is named after the late founder of a minority youth hockey program in Philadelphia.