Wow, it’s cool to find a bucket list item. I had been searching for a certified Larry Kwong autograph card, and I found this rare Famous Faces Canadiana card. It’s obviously an upgrade from my previous post.
Eng Kai Geong aka Larry Kwong -
1. Larry was a speedy Chinese Canadian forward from Vernon, BC. He was nicknamed “The China Clipper” and “King Kwong” because of his deftness on the ice. Raised with 15 siblings, they often created makeshift ice rinks by pouring water over parking lot surfaces to play hockey. Larry eagerly listened to hockey games over the radio. The sport was a temporary escape from the segregation around him.
2. He grew up during an era of intense discrimination, as he was denied jobs at the local smelter traditionally offered to other junior hockey players, couldn’t go to certain stores, and was prohibited from crossing the Canadian border for hockey games/camps.
3. Larry enjoyed a successful junior career and played for the Canadian army’s hockey team. Because of his on-ice success, the @nyrangers signed him to their minor league team, the Rovers, in 1946. There, he displayed tremendous offensive prowess and, in 1947, finished 3rd in team scoring with 37 points in 47 games.
4. On March 13, 1948, Larry became the first player of color to suit up in an @nhl game when he was called up by the Rangers to play against the @canadiensmtl. He was only put on the ice for a single, 60-second shift in the third period. He was never called up to play in the NHL again, and he thereafter left for a successful hockey career in Europe. Ever the gentleman, decades later, Larry never dwelled on the negative or portrayed himself as a victim when describing his single shift. Rather, he remarked, “It’s possible that I’ve been overlooked. Who knows? I felt that I did my share for the team.”
5. Larry’s achievements were continually overlooked, until a schoolteacher, Chad Soon, and one of his students, Gavin Donald, started a petition to recognize Larry’s contribution to hockey in 2013. Later that year, Larry was inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame at the age of 90. He passed on March 15, 2018.
Larry was a true trailblazer for the game, and his only interviews occurred mostly in the later years of his life. Even after all of those years, he was the consummate professional and never spoke poorly of the league or the Rangers. As the first player to break the NHL’s color barrier, he’s a hero that opened the door for future generations of hockey players of color. In a 2011 interview, he expressed his desire to see more Asians in the game: “There’s not enough [athletes of Asian heritage] that are playing. I hope there’s going to be more.” I hope this account fulfills that vision and continues to pay homage to the Asians who have played, and continue to play, over the years.