Above: Hockey pioneer Larry Kwong shares the limelight with from former Canucks star Trevor Linden. Globe photo.
Recognition has been slow in coming for Larry Kwong, the first Asian to play in the National Hockey League. Kwong, 87, played 12 seasons of pro hockey in Canada, the US, England and Switzerland during the 1940s and 1950s. The fourteenth child of an immigrant grocer, Kwong grew up in Vernon, where he learned to play hockey skating on frozen ponds in borrowed skates. Though only 5'6" and 150 pounds, he was a natural athlete with great speed and a deft scoring touch. He played amateur hockey in Trail, Nanaimo and Vancouver before taking a time out for WW II, when he served with the Canadian army. Following the war he joined the New York Rovers, an amateur team that played in Madison Square Garden. The New York press nicknamed him King Kwong, not entirely in mockery, because although he had the stature of a pixie he scored like a monster. His NHL career was brief, consisting of one period in one game with the New York Rangers in 1946, but it was enough to land him squarely in the record books. He had talent to burn but the NHL was not ready for an Asian player. Instead he went to the minor-league Valleyfield Braves, where he was the leading scorer and the league's most valuable player.
After his playing career he coached hockey in Switzerland and also worked as an instructor of tennis, another sport at which he excelled. Later he built a grocery business in Calgary and raised a family, his pioneering role in Canada's national game forgotten. Only recently has he been rediscovered and his traiblazing career recognized for what it was. In 2008 he was invited to drop the puck at the Vernon Vipers' opening game and received a two-minute standing ovation from the fans in his old home town. And on July 24, 2010 he was accorded the first Pioneer Award by the BC Hockey Hall of Fame in Penticton.
Better late than never!