Jason McCrimmon, pictured in 2008, grew up in Detroit and played pro hockey overseas. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)
Detroit -- I worked at the Lindell AC for owners Jimmy and Johnny Butsicaris.
One day, they brought in some hockey sticks following a Minnesota North Stars workout and gave them to me.
I took them home to share with my friends, who all pitched in to build a hockey rink in my backyard.
Some of the other kids in the neighborhood found out — and made fun of us.
"Black kids don't play hockey," they used to say.
All these years later, Jason McCrimmon doesn't believe in that theory.
McCrimmon is a big proponent of inner-city hockey, having grown up in Detroit and played pro hockey overseas. And this weekend, he's showcasing the inaugural "Black Ice Invitational" at Jack Adams Arena and Clark Park on Detroit's southwest side.
Games begin at 5:50 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
There are only four teams — from Columbus and Washington D.C., and two from Detroit — but McCrimmon is hoping to give the sport a boost in Detroit.
And he's made inroads. Black kids no longer look at him cross-eyed when he talks hockey. "I hope the (football) coaches are not mad at me," McCrimmon said. "(Some players we recruit) were mostly guys who played football and like to hit. Hockey is a sport where you get to hit."
McCrimmon, 29, is a retired hockey player, having spent time in Finland and with the Flint Generals, among other organizations.
The first black player to captain a team in Finland, McCrimmon wants to make hockey a common word in the black community.
"It is more receptive now," said McCrimmon, who also works as a personal trainer, hockey instructor and heads the skate program for the Redford Parks and Recreation Department.
"A lot of the kids can see I am just like them. It is not like I am unaware about what we go through in the inner city."
Still, McCrimmon understands there still are hurdles to overcome.
"We want to build this," he said. "I wanted to give back to the kids and give them something different to do. … We are still a brand new group and we are hungry."
Giving it a shot
Birmingham Brother Rice is giving the Detroit Sports Commission's Prep Kickoff Classic another shot.
Last year, fights broke out and spilled onto the field during Rice's 25-18 loss to Cass Tech at Wayne State.
E-mails and letters were exchanged, and Brother Rice officials questioned the school's future involvement.
But after talks, the decision was made to return to play in the event, which is scheduled for Aug. 31 at Wayne State. Brother Rice plays Cleveland St. Ignatius at 1 p.m. before Warren De LaSalle takes on Toledo Central Catholic at 5 p.m.
The problem is this: It's not about Brother Rice or Cass Tech or any other school.
The people involved in the fights were not associated with either school.
This can't happen again.