Don't worry if you haven't, not many of today's hockey fans have. And yet, in the 1940's they were known as the 'Black Aces,' a fast-skating, hard-hitting, all-black forward line in the Quebec Senior Hockey League. A semi-pro league, many people felt some of its teams could have competed in the NHL. Certainly the Black Aces could have.
Here's what one report had to say:
By Ian Wilson
In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier, I'd like to relate a little story about the Black Aces. I would also like to mention before I go further that one of the finest men I have ever met in hockey was the late Coot O'Ree, brother of Willie O'Ree, who broke hockey's color barrier on January 18, 1958, when he played for the Bruins in a 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Forum.
Two problems conspired to keep black players out of the NHL. One undoubtedly was the distinct waspish nature of the League owners, coupled with the fact that for a number of years, the vast majority of players came from Canada, and Canada has only a small portion of blacks making up it's population. For that reason alone it remains hard to believe that an all-black forward line not only thrived, but starred for several years during the forties and fifties in two of the fastest hockey leagues in North America, The Provincial League in Quebec, and the Quebec Senior Hockey League.
The line was comprised of brothers Herb and Ossie Carnegie from Toronto, and Manny McIntyre of Fredericton, New Brunswick. (Co-incidentally Willie O'Ree's home town as well.) A gentleman who would know a thing or two about being excluded from the NHL was Larry Ziedel, who at one time was the lone Jew in the NHL. Larry, who played against Herb, Ossie and Manny in the Quebec Senior Hockey before he made it to the NHL said, "They would have been good enough to star in the NHL today. But in those days the NHL was a six team league paying awfully low salaries. Ossie and Herbie were making terrific money in the Quebec League and had side jobs which gave them even more security. There was no reason to try for the NHL."
At one time or another both the Rangers and Maple Leafs expressed an interest in Herb, considered to be the best of the three, but hockey lacked an owner with the strength of his convictions like Branch Rickey, who brought Jackie Robinson into the Major Leagues. So Herb, Ossie, and Manny did their thing in the cities through Quebec Province and when the League went international during the 1946-47 season the line terrorized teams in New York and Boston with their display of passing and skating.
Those who remember the Carnegies in their halcyon days believe that they reached their peak during the 1945-46 season, when they were playing for the Sherbrooke Rand in the Provincial League. Sherbrooke was home to the Canadian Ingersol Rand Company. The farm equipment manufacturing firm provided the payroll for the players, as well as jobs for the players. The loop had teams in Lachine (Montreal), Drummondville, St. Hyacinthe and Cornwall, Ontario. Travel never exceeded three hours, unless Old Man Winter intervened. Games were played in pre-war buildings that held in the area of 3000 patrons, and the League was a vibrant League that provided entertainment that was almost in a class with that played in the National Hockey League.
Few records remain from the now long defunct League, but one man who vividly recalls the exploits of the All Black line is Richard Wilson (no relation) who wrote for the Sherbrooke Daily Record.
From the Sherbrooke Daily Record:
Believe me, black was beautiful long before it became a civil rights slogan. That all-black hockey line on the white ice was one of the prettiest sights anybody could ever hope to see in sports. Sure, they played in a small league, in small buildings, but there was nothing small about the excitement they generated.
Herbie Carnegie, who centered the line, was as good as any hockey player around. He had all the standard moves plus a couple of his own specialties. He excelled in all departments, stickhandling, passing, playmaking, shooting, forechecking, backchecking, penalty-killing, and speed.
On the right wing, Ossie didn't have the speed, flash or dash of Herbie but he always did a workmanlike job with 100 percent effort. He was stronger, physically, than the other two, possessed a blazing shot, and played excellent positional hockey. Ossie was particularly effective in the corners where he could hold his own with any defenseman in the league.
Manny worked left wing with the same discipline that Ossie showed on the right. He was a fine positional player, good in the corners, and willing to mix it with any challenger. A big man, McIntyre could hold his own when the going got rough; which sure was often in the Provincial league. If Manny had a weakness it was to pass of instead of shoot. He was a good passer and playmaker and had twice as many assists as goals. His talents completed the Carnegie brothers perfectly.
As an all-black forward line they were an instant gate attraction. Transcending that novelty, however, their individual and combined hockey talents never failed to excite the fans. Ovations from partisan home crowds around the circuit were not uncommon.
Perhaps the best way to describe the trio is to borrow another analogy from the music world, and say they were always in perfect harmony. They knew and anticipated each other so well that it was impossible for a checking unit to hold them off the scoreboard for very long.
During the 40-game season, they were held scoreless on only four occasions. They tallied 84 goals and 98 assists for an average of 2.1 goals, and 4.6 points per game. Their 84 goals made up 44 percent of the team's 189 goal total. It would be redundant to say they were the best line in the League and as a result, they were marked men. Every team played its best checking line against them. The opposition's game plan was always bottle up the black line and everything will fall into place. It only worked briefly, as the line would adjust their tactics, and more often than not, the Sherbrooke squad went on to win the game. The team captured the League title on the strength of a 24-12-4 record. In 15 of those wins, the black line equaled or exceeded the opposition's goal total.
The line remained in tact until the late forties when Ossie and Mannie retired but Herbie continued playing for the Quebec Aces, in the powerful Quebec Senior Hockey League, where he out scored the immortal Jean Beliveau in each year the pair were teammates, despite being in the twilight of his career.
Those who remember Herbie as a member of the Aces insist that he faced little of the hostility that had confronted Jackie Robinson. There was no anti-Negro Southerners in hockey as there were on the Brooklyn Dodgers, or on the opposition.
"Everybody on the Aces accepted Herbie as an equal," remembers his teammate Larry Zeidel. "There was no such thing as separate quarters because he was black or anything at all like that. Except for the color of his skin, you'd never know that Carnegie was any different from the rest of us."
Most hockey historians recognize that in its heyday the Quebec Senior Hockey League was the second best circuit in hockey, it was unquestionably the most vicious. In that context it would have been simple for anti-black skaters to run Carnegie out of the League.
"It was worth your life to play for the Aces," claims Zeidel, "because at any time somebody was apt to try and chop your wrist off. Naturally, everybody took a shot at Herbie the way they did at everybody else but he couldn't be intimidated. In that sense he was very much like Jackie Robinson in character."
In time Herbie retired, and like so many other stars of days gone by, most folks have forgotten Herbie. Luckily there remain folks like Richard Wilson who remember how these players dominated the some of the best hockey leagues on the continent. They were, of course, born 30 years too soon.
"If an all-black line of that caliber ever sprung up today," says Wilson, "they'd be worth six figures. But I don't think Herbie, Ossie, and Mannie would mind. After all, they did have a lot of FUN!"