William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past eight years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, he writes about the Hockey Hall of Fame receiving the jersey of Darren Lowe, the first Black person to play for Canada’s Olympic team, in 1984.
Darren Lowe isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But his jersey is, thanks to Will Tudoroff.
Tudoroff recently gave the Hall the red and white jersey that Lowe wore at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, when he quietly made history as Canada’s first Black Olympic hockey player.
“In my discussions with the Hall of Fame I said, ‘You guys need this more than I do because I think it’s really important that people of color — and that goes into the Indigenous population as well as any person of color — that it should be part of the Hall of Fame collection,” said Tudoroff, a Hamilton, Ontario, native who lives in Athens, Georgia. “You get a Black Canadian kid that goes to the Hall of Fame and sees Jarome Iginla‘s jersey, sees Darren Lowe’s jersey, sees Grant Fuhr‘s goalie mask and says, ‘Hey, I can be just like them — they represented Canada.'”
Lowe said he’s honored that his jersey is part of the Hall, where it will eventually rotate between the Olympic history and diversity exhibits. It will also be part of a traveling display.
“I just think it’s a pretty cool thing to have that recognition to be in a place where people got to look at the history of hockey,” he said.
Phil Pritchard, a vice president and curator for the Hall of Fame, called the donation of Lowe’s Olympic jersey a major acquisition.
“It’s huge for us,” he said. “A jersey from the first Black player — for the history for what it means for Canada and for what it represents, it’s pretty big.”
Lowe earned a spot on the 1984 Olympic roster with his impressive play in Canadian and U.S. college hockey. A right wing, he scored 153 points (72 goals, 81 assists) for the University of Toronto from 1981-83 and 1985-86. He scored 46 points (25 goals, 21 assists) in 34 games with U.S. International University in San Diego, then an NCAA Division I program, in 1979-80.
The Toronto native was the fifth-leading scorer (two goals, two assists in seven games) on a Canadian Olympic team that finished fourth in Sarajevo and was stocked with future NHL talent that included forwards Russ Courtnall, Kirk Muller, Patrick Flatley and Kevin Dineen, defensemen Bruce Driver and James Patrick and goalie Mario Gosselin.
“It was an amazing opportunity,” Lowe said. “As a little kid, I thought it would be really cool to play in the Olympics. I used to listen on the radio when Canada was playing Olympic hockey. It was a dream for me, but I never thought in my heart that it would happen. But as it got closer and closer, I thought that it might happen.”
When it did happen, neither Lowe nor Canada made much about him being the country’s first Black Olympic hockey player.
“There wasn’t at the time, and there still isn’t, a lot of press about that,” he said. “To be completely honest with you, it wasn’t something that really crossed my mind.”
Lowe’s appearance in the Winter Olympics was one of several hockey firsts for the 59-year-old Toronto resident, who played briefly in the NHL and enjoyed a lengthy career as a college hockey coach in Canada.
He became the first Black player for the Pittsburgh Penguins when he signed with them after Sarajevo.
“I had two options when the Olympics were over — to go to New Jersey (Devils) with no guarantee of playing NHL games, just signing a two-way contract and play either in the American Hockey League or maybe the NHL,” Lowe said. “Pittsburgh guaranteed me that I would play in the NHL right away. Being undrafted, being 24, I said, ‘Hey, this is my chance to play in the NHL.'”
He finished with three points (one goal, two assists) in eight games for the Penguins, who finished last in the NHL in 1983-84 with 38 points (16-58, six ties). That earned Pittsburgh the No. 1 pick in the 1984 NHL Draft; the Penguins selected Mario Lemieux.
Lowe is also believed to be the first Black Canadian to captain a national team when he helped Canada win the 1984 Spengler Cup, an annual international invitational tournament held in Davos, Switzerland.
He retired in 1991 after stints in the American Hockey League, International Hockey League, Finland and Austria. Lowe returned to the University of Toronto as an assistant in 1992, was named coach in 1995-96 and is believed to be the first Black person to lead a Canadian college team, a storied one at that. Lowe’s coaching predecessors include former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, Conn Smythe, Ace Bailey, Mike Keenan and Tom Watt.
Lowe stepped down in 2017 after 22 years, making him the university’s longest-serving hockey coach. He finished his career 263-288-30. One of his coaching jackets and a whistle are already in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It’s actually kind of impressive — not to be boastful or anything, but at the time, I never thought much about it,” said Lowe, who still teaches at the university as senior athletic instructor, faculty of kinesiology and physical education. “But to look at it now and to say, ‘You’re the first to do this, the first to do that,’ well, that’s kind of interesting.”
Tudoroff didn’t know everything about Lowe or his jersey when he bought it in 2012 from a fellow collector of Canadian Football League jerseys in Calgary. Tudoroff paid about $100 for Lowe’s No. 14 jersey, almost as a throw-in with two CFL jerseys that he purchased.
When another collector saw Lowe’s jersey in 2018 on a website that Tudoroff has for his jersey collection, he quickly offered $1,000 for it, but then backed out.
“The offer made me do some digging into the history of the jersey and of Darren Lowe himself,” said Tudoroff, who owns more than 100 CFL jerseys and hockey jerseys from various leagues. “I reached out to the Hockey Hall of Fame. They told me about the photo archive they have and invited me to come and look through it. As we went back and forth, I was still doing research and realized that Lowe wore the jersey in the Olympics, making this a very special jersey.”
Tudoroff said he’s thrilled that the $1,000 offer for Lowe’s jersey fell through.
“The jersey is priceless,” he said.
Photo courtesy: Hockey Canada Images, HHOF Archives, Martin Bazyl, Will Tudoroff and Darren Lowe