When Florida Panthers forward Anthony Duclair sustained an Achilles tear in June, he decided to use his time away from the rink to start his own foundation.
“Everything happens for a reason, I truly believe that,” Duclair said.
Florida Panthers assistant general manager Brett Peterson found a venue in downtown Fort Lauderdale and told Duclair that they needed to do something with much of the hockey world in town for NHL All-Star weekend during Black History Month.
”For me, my mind started to get rolling and it was a no-brainer to start my own foundation to help the next generation, to tell my story and to connect with everyone. Tell them that there are a lot of changes that need to happen,” Duclair said.
”And for me, that’s got to be through hockey. That’s my life, that’s all I wanted to do.”
The 27-year-old Quebec native started the Anthony Duclair Foundation in an effort to reach out to children who have experienced racism in their lives and to help them overcome it.
After six months of putting it together, Duclair raised upwards of $200,000 — including a $100,000 donation from the Panthers — at a kickstarter event for the foundation on Thursday night.
With hockey being a predominantly white sport, racism has been ingrained in its culture for years and Duclair has had to deal with it throughout his life.
“As much as I loved hockey, there was a part where it was honestly disgusting,” Duclair said.
”I know that I am not the only one and I just want to know that other kids know that. I want them to know my story and to know that I have overcome that and it is possible for them to overcome that and get to wherever they want to go in life without being stopped by racial gestures.”
The racism that hockey culture breeds hit Duclair at a young age growing up in Montreal and he had to learn how to work through it quickly.
“You don’t see color when you are a kid but when you are reminded of it when there are parents in the arenas making monkey gestures towards you and kids are calling you names and racial slurs when you are eight or nine years old, that kind of gets in your head,” Duclair said.
”You have sleepless nights and you learn to internalize things. You feel like you can’t relate to anyone, you feel like you can’t go to anyone to talk about it.”
Duclair started his foundation to be a mentor for children going through similar things so they wouldn’t feel like they were alone in the fight.
“Parents tell me that kids want to quit hockey just because of instances like I went through and my little brother went through,” Duclair said.
”For me, it’s tough to talk about, but I have been through that and I know what it feels like to be alone and to feel left out. And seeing their reaction through Zoom, through meet-and-greets and seeing their eyes pop out, I was that kid who looked up to those guys.
”I just want to give my love and support, share my knowledge, share my story and tell them that they are loved and supported and that they can accomplish anything they want.”
Duclair also plans to help build ball hockey rinks in underserved areas in South Florida — starting in Little Haiti — to help grow the game of hockey in the Black community.
The Panthers have backed Duclair in his fight to make hockey accessible for everyone, but Panthers general manager Bill Zito has seen his dedication for the past six years.
Zito and Duclair first met during the 2018-19 season while they were both with the Columbus Blue Jackets before Duclair became one of Zito’s first free agent singings as Panthers general manager.
”Everything Anthony said, I can tell you that he lives it,” Zito.
”We watch it, we are with him every day. I’ve watched him through his rehab, through the way he’s started to try to get this foundation, the work that he has put in, the energy and the sincere conviction and I could just say that I’m proud.”
A good chunk of the Panthers roster came out to Duclair’s event in downtown Fort Lauderdale to support him as well.
“It’s not only me doing this,” Duclair said.
“My teammates see that it’s very important to me. Just having their support and learning that they’re here for me is huge and special.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
ALL-STAR WEEK, SOUTH FLORIDA
- Today through Saturday: NHL All-Star Beach Festival at Fort Lauderdale Beach, Noon-6 p.m.
- Skills Competition at FLA Live Arena, Sunrise, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
- Saturday: All-Star Game at FLA Live Arena, Sunrise, 3 p.m. (ABC)
- Up Next for the Panthers: vs. Tampa Bay, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. (BSF)