On Jan. 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree suited up for the Boston Bruins and took the ice against the Montreal Canadiens, making him the first Black player in NHL history. O’Ree opened the door for other players of colour to follow in his tracks. Names such as P.K Subban, Jarome Iginla, Wayne Simmons, and Quinton Byfield, the highest-drafted black players of all time, have been starting to show that hockey is for everyone.
Over the years, there have been several black players who have dawned the Carolina Hurricanes red sweater. In honour of Black History Month, we will profile those players during February. The first on the list is a player who spent three seasons with the Hurricanes. While he may be known for his hockey analyst career, he once tended the net for the Hurricanes in the days before Cam Ward, that player being Kevin Weekes.
Kevin Weekes was born on April 4, 1975, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and got his start in hockey by accident. As a kid, he had watched the older kids in his neighbourhood play street hockey, and when their goalie moved away, they asked four-year-old Weekes to step in. Even at that young age he instantly fell in love with being between the pipes. When he began playing for St. Mike’s a couple of years later, it was really cemented in his mind that he wanted to be a professional goalie.
Like Sergei Samsonov, he ended up playing in the Quebec Peewee Tournament in 1989 with the Toronto Red Wings. While the Red Wings didn’t win the tournament that year, they were still a finalist team. For Weekes, the experience he had in Quebec was what he imagined it felt like to play in the NHL.
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His first taste of the professionals came with the now-defunct Owen Sound Platers of the Ontario Hockey League. It was after his first season with the Platers, where he went 9-12-5 (tie), that he was drafted by the Florida Panthers 41st overall at the 1993 Entry-Draft. It would take him until 1997 to actually dawn the Panthers sweater. Between that time, he continued in juniors playing another year with the Platers before spending his last OHL season with the Ottawa 67’s going 13-23-4 (tie) in 41 games.
After the OHL, Weekes moved onto the American Hockey League, playing for the AHL affiliate of the Panthers, the Carolina Monarchs. In two seasons he played 111 games with a 41-53-12 (tie) record. In 1997-98 he played 11 games for the Panthers with a 0-5-1 (tie) record.
Over the next couple of years, he would bounce around between the International Hockey League and the NHL playing for the Fort Wayne Comets, Detroit Vipers, Vancouver Canucks, and New York Islanders. In 2000, he would make the move to the Tampa Bay Lightning which would set him on his path toward the Hurricanes.
On March 5, 2002, the Carolina Hurricanes acquired Weekes from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Chris Dingman and Shane Willis. Ironically enough, all three players involved in this trade would go on to be hockey analysts. As already mentioned, Weekes would be an analyst for the NHL, Dingman became an analyst for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Willis is currently an analyst with the Hurricanes.
After his trade to Carolina, he would become the backup goalie for Arturs Irbe. While he only played in two of the remaining seventeen games of the season, winning both, it was the playoffs where the Hurricanes would see what Weekes was made of. After a game four loss to the New Jersey Devils, Weekes replaced Irbe in net. It was a decision that worked out in the Hurricanes’ favour as they ended up winning the series 4-2.
Their next series was against the Montreal Canadiens where Weekes started in the first three games. Between game six of the first round and game one of the second round, Weekes notched back-to-back shutouts with 32 saves in game six and 25 saves in game one. The Hurricanes would go on to lose in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings and would go on to be the only time Weekes would go that far in the playoffs.
His prowess in the net got him the nod as starting netminder for the next two seasons with the Hurricanes. Over those two seasons, he would play in 117 games and have a record of 37-54-20 (tie). Even though the Hurricanes would not make it to the playoffs over that time, Weekes had still proved himself in the NHL.
New York and the Garden State
The following 2004-05 season brought the lockout, but as a free agent, Weekes had already signed with the New York Rangers and stepped right into place when hockey started up again in 2005-06. Weekes started the season, opening the NHL season with the Rangers. It was a season the Rangers were expected to end at the bottom of the league, but it wouldn’t be. Weekes started out strong but went out with injury and then-rookie Henrik Lundqvist stepped up to the plate and blew everyone away.
While Weekes did act as a mentor of sorts during Lundqvist’s rookie year, it was clear that Lundqvist was there to stay. For his part, Weekes helped the Rangers get 31 points and between both goalies, they made it to the first round of the playoffs but ended up getting swept by the New Jersey Devils. It was this season that his former team, the Hurricanes, would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
The following season he served as back-up to Lundqvist, playing in 14 games and going 4-6-2 (OTL). That summer he would sign as a free with the New Jersey Devils and become backup to Martin Brodeur. His first game as Devil came with a 4-1 win over the team that drafted him. He made 32 saves that night and would go on to win eight more games as a Devil. After the 2008-09 season, Weekes announced his retirement from the NHL on Sept 27, 2009, where in 348 games, he had a record of 105-163-33-6(OTL). However, the NHL wasn’t done with him yet.
After his retirement, Weekes made hockey history by becoming the first black analyst in ice hockey, when NHL Network brought him on to provide colour commentary for the NHL Network and Hockey Night in Canada. In 2011, the Hockey News named him in that year’s edition of the 100 Most Powerful People in Ice Hockey as one of the Top 40 under the age of 40.
In the years since retirement, he has worked with Hockey Night in Canada, CBC’s After Hours, NHL Tonight, and NBC and MSG’s Hockey Night Live. In addition to commentary, he has appeared on the small screen in shows like One Life to Live, Everybody Hates Chris, All My Children, and The View. Not only that, but he has also spoken on Capitol Hill in Washington and represented the NHL at the White House.
Weekes has continued to remain one of hockey’s most charitable players, giving back to causes in North America and his parent’s native Barbados. His goal is to empower youth to fulfil their dreams. While he may be known by the younger generations and newer hockey fans for his role as an analyst, older fans will always remember him for what he did on the ice.
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On her previous stint with The Hockey Writers, Casey covered the Tampa Bay Lightning, but she has returned to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. Even though she is Steel City born, a former season ticker member with the Lightning, and lives in Orlando, the Canes have always been her favourite team. She started her hockey career as Keeper of Time for the California University of Pennsylvania Vulcan Hockey Club while going to school for Sport Management. She hopes to one day work with Hockey Ministries International as a team chaplain. You can usually find her tweeting about hockey or posting pictures on Instagram.