By RON FANFAIR
Angela James’ passion for hockey was fuelled in Flemingdon Park, one of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods and housing projects.
She began skating on the frozen hydro fields and later played shinny and ball hockey with neighbourhood boys in the mid-1960s. The talent and skills displayed at an early age took James to the summit of women’s hockey and, last Monday night, into the esteemed Hockey Hall of Fame.
The only Black to captain a national women’s hockey team, James and American Cammi Granato made history by becoming the first females to be inducted into the 65-year-old Hall.
“I feel so very, very privileged to be one the first females to lead us into the great Hockey Hall of Fame,” she said in her induction speech. “The time is right, we are here and who’s next.
“I used to run hockey schools back in the day and I would always arrange a visit here to the Hockey Hall of Fame with different groups. I would always be in amazement of the class of athletes and read all about the great legends inducted and, if you ever, ever would ask me if I would be standing here today, not in a lifetime.”
Women were given an opportunity to be elected in their own category for the first time this year.
James, who turns 46 on December 22, joins five-time Stanley Cup champion and Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach Grant Fuhr, who was inducted seven years ago, as the only Blacks in the Hall.
She paid tribute to those who helped her as a player and as a person, including her mother, who registered her in minor boys’ hockey at age eight.
“You always found a way to allow me to play, no matter what or where,” she told her mom while choking back tears. “You always found a way to get there.”
James also thanked her three children and her partner of 16 years, Angela McDonald, for their patience and understanding in allowing her to pursue her passion for the sport.
“These are the ones that made sacrifices night after night while you can go out and play the game,” she said. “I know you might not understand now Michael, Christian and Toni (the last two are twins), but tonight your mom has climbed a very tall mountain.”
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 defense 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 medalist.
“Angela was the ultimate power forward,” said former Canadian captain Cassie Campbell.
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 also won gold medals in 1996 and 1999 in the Three Nations Cup tournaments that also involved the United States and Finland.
“I loved competing for my country, I loved competing for my province and I enjoyed the rivalries with Team USA and Team Finland,” said James, whose brother, Theo Peckham, is a defenseman with the Edmonton Oilers.
The two-time Seneca Female Athlete of the Year, whose number eight 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 coordinator, responsible for the administration and coordination of sports and recreation leagues.
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 she first learned to skate and hone her hockey skills, was renamed the Angela James Arena last June.
James 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.