Inspired by hockey’s racial reckoning and last year’s social justice “awakening,” Rane Carnegie is carrying on his family’s legacy and working to get his trailblazing grandfather into the Hockey Hall of Fame
Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, these names became rallying calls across North America during the summer of 2020 as the continent confronted centuries of systemic racism.
For Rane Carnegie, so much of the past year has been a call to action.
“It was traumatizing,” the 36-year-old former junior hockey star says.
“I have a Black son and a Black daughter. It impacted my family in a way that I can’t even begin to describe.”
The social justice movement that followed the deaths last year of Black men and women like Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery, took place in the wake of a racial reckoning throughout the game of hockey that was first sparked by Akim Aliu in the fall of 2019.
For Carnegie, the confluence of these movements was, what he calls, an awakening.
“It gave me the strength I needed to realize that I can be a leader and my actions matter,” Carnegie says. “My voice matters.”
“I wasn’t going to sit around and not do anything about it anymore.”
A PASSION FOR THE GAME
Carnegie’s passion for hockey comes honest enough.
His grandfather Herb Carnegie, widely considered to be the game’s first Black star, was a smooth-skating centre and a three-time winner of the Quebec senior league’s most valuable player award during the 1940s.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, he was also the man who showed up with a pair of skates at his grandson’s Toronto doorstep and first introduced him to the sport.
“I fell in love with the game from the moment I stepped foot on the ice with my grandfather.”
Like his grandfather who learned the game on the frozen ponds of north Toronto, it didn’t take long for the younger Carnegie to excel with those skates on.
An emerging hockey star in his own right, he caught the attention of junior hockey scouts early. In 2001, he was a first-round pick of the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls.
His own hockey journey would bring him through the OHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – where he starred with the Halifax Mooseheads – as well as the American Hockey League and other pro teams throughout the United States and Europe.
“As Canadians, you dream of playing for the Leafs and winning the Stanley Cup. It’s every kid’s dream and I was no different.
“[My dream] was just enhanced because of the legend of who my grandfather is and was.”
Despite his many accomplishments on the senior circuit in Quebec – the same league in which his former Quebec Aces teammate and lifelong friend Jean Béliveau cut his teeth – Herb Carnegie was never able to realize his own dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
That dream was snuffed out by institutional racism in the game. But despite all he endured, Herb Carnegie never stopped loving the sport or believing that hockey could be a vehicle for social change.
After hanging up his skates as a player in 1953, the elder Carnegie opened the Future Aces Hockey School, believed to be the first of its kind in the world.
He also penned the Future Aces Creed, a personal code that was part of his lifelong effort to promote respect and tolerance among young people, and to help ensure that future generations would not be subjected to the same kind of discrimination that he had experienced.
A hockey trailblazer and champion of diversity and inclusion, Herb Carnegie was named to the Order of Ontario in 1996, inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and invested into the Order of Canada in 2003.
He passed away in 2012 at the age of 92.
HIS ACTIONS MATTER, HIS VOICE MATTERS
For Rane Carnegie, there has always been one obvious accolade missing from his grandfather’s decorated resume: recognition from the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Last summer, following weeks of social unrest across the United States and Canada, and repeated calls from family and friends, the younger Carnegie was inspired to act.
So he launched a petition aimed at the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee and the NHL with, what he thinks should be, a simple request: Include Dr. Herbert H. Carnegie in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I did it as a call to action for my Caucasian friends and family who were reaching out to me after the George Floyd incident,” Carnegie explains.
“They would come to me and say, ‘If we haven’t been an ally, we want you to know that we are.’”
If Herb Carnegie were to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, his grandson believes it would not only help right a racial wrong of the past, but it would be more than deserved for what he meant to the sport and what he accomplished on the ice.
Béliveau, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame 49 years ago, said that Herb Carnegie was one of the best players he ever played with.
“That tells me that my grandfather wasn’t just a hockey player,” Carnegie says.
“When a superstar – an all-generational superstar like Jean Béliveau – is on record as saying that my grandfather was one of the best to have ever played with him, that to me tells me everything that I need to know, and it should for everyone else as well.”
Following the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance last summer, Carnegie points to his grandfather’s own humanitarian work with the Future Aces and believes there is no better time to recognize the contributions that his grandfather made to the sport as a player and a builder.
“[Diversity and inclusion] are what my grandfather was trying to teach for the last number of decades,” Carnegie says.
In the months since the petition was launched online, it has caught the attention of more than just Carnegie’s friends and family. In all, more than 7,000 people have expressed their support.
“We shouldn’t have to wait another year,” Carnegie says.
“If not now, then when? The time is now.”
CARRYING ON THE LEGACY
There are other ways Rane Carnegie is trying to preserve his grandfather’s legacy.
Last year, he established the O.W.N. Aces Sports Group, a mentorship and life-skills development initiative that has a similar objective to that of the Future Aces: to develop future leaders.
The former Mooseheads captain wants to share with young people some of the tough life lessons he has learned both on and off the ice. But his grandfather is never far from his work.
“He’s my guiding light,” Carnegie says.
“My grandfather was a ray of light. He still is. And I’m forever proud and humbled by my association to that great man.
“The game of hockey allowed us to have a special bond because he had the same love that I did.”
And like his grandfather, Rane Carnegie is giving back to that game. Today, he is a minor hockey coach with Toronto Young Nationals program in the Greater Toronto Hockey League.
“I love the game. I’m teaching in the game now. And my son plays hockey.
“It’s full circle. It’s all coming full circle.”