Florida Panthers forward Anthony Duclair has made his impact on hockey felt in multiple areas over the past year.
On the ice, Duclair put up a career-high 31 goals and 58 points while helping the Panthers win the Presidents’ Trophy last season.
Duclair will miss the start of this season, however, after needing Achilles tendon surgery over the summer.
His impact on the game is much bigger off the ice.
Duclair is a founding member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, an organization which strives to eradicate systemic racism in hockey.
The HDA was founded in June 2020 to help hockey become a more welcoming place for people of color.
The organization supports grassroots hockey development and equipment efforts, anti-racism and unconscious bias education efforts, social justice initiatives and scholarships for qualified youth players.
Ever since the founding of the HDA, there has been a clear effort to remove racism from the sport.
The work is not yet done.
”I feel like I do see a difference in the community compared to years ago, but at the same time, it’s not where it needs to be,” Duclair said. “Especially from an NHL standpoint, there is a lot more work to be done.
“We are working hard and I do see a difference, so that’s a positive.”
The Panthers forward has been making an effort to bring his teammates into the fight against racism as well.
In February, most of the team wore shirts that said “We Stand Against Racism” throughout Black History Month.
“Obviously, he is a really good hockey player and on top of that, he does those things and gets people to talk about those things more,’’ Florida captain Sasha Barkov said.
“It has obviously been the case over the last few years here. We love Duke and we love what he is doing for the community. I think it’s good to have a guy like that.”
While the issue of racism in hockey has been at the forefront of discussions a lot more frequently since the formation of the HDA, it has not been completely eradicated.
On top of countless other incidents that have happened over the last couple of years, there were two separate incidents in the AHL and ECHL of white players hurling racist slurs and gestures at Black players.
“You have to set up some type of rules or baseline of when these incidents happen, there has to be some kind of punishment,” Duclair said.
”I don’t think there is anything in place right now that can come in and help these kids and keep these kids safe. I think that is where it starts — the top.”
Racism has been a lingering issue that has been ingrained in hockey culture for years.
According to the Associated Press, the NHL was 97 percent white as of 2019. Demographics in youth hockey are very much similar.
With such little visibility in the sport, it has been deeply stigmatized and has created a harmful environment for Black players.
”I think the more visibility there is for these kids, the more players of color that they see on TV, the more they feel like they can reach that dream one day,” Duclair said.
”I think that is the main thing, the men and women of color to look up to.”
Having those tough conversations with teammates to bring the rampant racism that hockey culture has created to light is another way Duclair has made his impact felt. And his Panthers teammates have been listening.
”If you don’t talk about it, nothing will ever change. Duke has been really good with that and of course, he has been doing his own thing as well. He is doing an awesome job,” Barkov said.
”It is really important for all players’ personalities to come out and be involved in something bigger than the team,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice added.
“Anthony clearly has an awareness of the world outside of the Panthers locker room and he’s involved in that. We learn from the people around us, so to have somebody that can teach and be involved, not just with our players but with the guy sitting beside him, I think that is critically important.”
Duclair’s latest project in his HDA efforts is a film based on the 2004 book “Black Ice.”
The documentary gives hockey fans an extensive dive into the history of Black athletes in the sport. It goes over pre-NHL contributions to the game and the struggles players faced with racism over the years.
“For me, just hearing the individual stories is very eye-opening,” Duclair said.
“It’s something that you think you know but really don’t until somebody addresses it to you. Just hearing all of these types of stories, especially from a guy like Herb Carnegie, a guy who was talented enough to play in the league but never got the opportunity to. Hearing these types of stories is a very emotional time.”
Black Ice debuted at the Toronto Film Festival this summer and won a People’s Choice Award at the event.
While details have yet to be released for an American release of the film, Duclair’s impact has already been felt around South Florida.
Duclair jerseys can be spotted all around FLA Live Arena on gamedays and a fan was spotted with a sign that said “Anthony Duclair is my hero” early last season.
Last season, Duclair was the Florida Panthers’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, the annual award given “to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
“It means everything to get to this point,” Duclair said.
“I am very, very blessed and very honored. I am very grateful for the love and support I have gotten, especially here in South Florida since I came here two years ago. I am just looking forward to growing as a person, as a player and helping the community the best way I can.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK ISLANDERS
- When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: UBS Arena; Elmont, N.Y.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM/SiriusXM
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 54-32-11, 8 ties