By: Casey Bridge

On Jan. 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree suited up for the Boston Bruins and took the ice against the Montreal Canadiens, making him the first Black player in NHL history. O’Ree opened the door for other players of colour to follow in his tracks. Names such as P.K Subban, Jarome Iginla, Wayne Simmonds, and Quinton Byfield, the highest-drafted black players of all time, have been starting to show that hockey is for everyone.

Over the years there have seen several black players who have dawned the Carolina Hurricanes red sweater. In honour of Black History Month, we will profile those players during February. The third on the list is a player who spent one season with the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2011-12 season, that player being Anthony Stewart.

Early Years

Anthony and his brother, Chris, didn’t have the same road to the NHL as most players. Their father, a Jamaican immigrant named Norman Stewart had moved to Montreal in his twenties, seeking a better life than he had in Jamaica. That was where he met blonde-hair, blue-eyed Sue Reid, and that union brought Anthony, Chris, and five sisters into the family. 

Black History Carolina Hurricanes Profile Anthony Stewart

Norman worked odd jobs trying to make ends meet, but at times, the family could barely afford to make ends meet. Times were tough for the brothers, but Norman and Sue did whatever they could to give the kids the best life they could. Even if it meant doing without on their part, the money went to the younger Stewarts.

It was through their father that the boys developed an interest in hockey. Norman had moved to Montreal during the golden years of the Montreal Canadiens when they won six Stanley Cups in one decade. He loved the passion fans had for the team, and it was a love he passed onto his sons.

When the boys were young, they lived in a condo two miles from an arena. From that condo, Norman and Stewart would walk to the arena, in all weather, where he would play in his cousin’s oversized, hand-me-down, equipment. Stewart persisted, not letting anything stand in his way. It was the same path Chris would follow as he got older and started to play himself.

It was because of these walks that Stewart as connected with Shirley Zeimandorf, the mother of one of his teammates. She would give him rides to the rink, and eventually provide him with a home during the hockey season so he could play for a better league. This changed the trajectory of his career.

In 2001, he was selected by the Kingston Frontenacs and became a star on the team. Years of proving himself and working hard had paid off. In 2002-03 he had his best OHL season to that point, scoring 32 goals and 38 assists which caught the eyes of the NHL scouts. He was selected 25th overall by the Florida Panthers at the 2003 NHL Entry-Draft. With Florida, he got an $800,000 signing bonus and the first thing Stewart did was buy his parents a better home.

Long Road to the NHL 

Stewart didn’t have the easiest road to the NHL. Even though he had shined during his youth, the competition to the NHL was rough. At the end of his final year with the Kingston Frontenacs, Stewart joined the San Antonio Rampage for 10 games where he had one goal and two assists.

In the 2005-06 season, he would start out with the Rochester Americans, scoring two goals and three assists in four games before getting recalled to the Florida Panthers after Rostislav Olesz went on injured reserve. He would play 10 games with the Panthers that season before a wrist injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. He would spend the next two seasons splitting time between the Americans and the Panthers.

Anthony Stewart Carolina Hurricanes

After the 2008-09 season, Stewart was a free agent and signed with the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers assigned him to their AHL affiliate, Chicago Wolves, where he spent the 2009-10 season, scoring 13 goals and 18 assists in 77 games. The next year he would stay with the Thrashers, playing his first full season in the NHL, scoring 14 goals and 25 assists in 80 games. During his season, he recorded his first hat trick against the Anaheim Ducks.

When the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg at the end of that season, they did not make a qualifying offer to Stewart, and instead, he signed a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. In Carolina, Stewart primarily played on the fourth line alongside Tim Brent and Derek Joselin. A line Stewart lovingly dubbed the Oreo Line.

After 50 games with the Hurricanes, with just six goals seven assists, the team put Stewart on waivers. When no team claimed him, he went right back to work with the Hurricanes. Knowing what he could have lost gave Stewart an extra drive to prove himself and it worked out with Coach Kirk Mueller placing him on the top line alongside Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty.

In the remaining 27 games that season, he scored three additional goals and four assists. Following the 2013 lockout, General Manager Jim Rutherford sent Stewart and two draft picks to the Los Angeles Kings for Kevin Westgarth. He did not play with the Los Angeles Kings and was instead sent to the Manchester Monarchs. He played 30 games in his final NHL season before heading overseas for the last three years of his professional hockey career.

Going to Europe

During the 2012-13 NHL lockout, Stewart got his first taste of European hockey. For 19 games he played with the Nottingham Panthers of the Elite Ice Hockey League in the United Kingdom. In 19 games, he scored six goals and five assists before the NHL ended the lockout and the players returned to America. He would return to the overseas circuit the following season.

To start the 2013-14 season, Stewart signed with Avtomobilist Yekatrinaburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. Avtomobilist and Stewart agreed to mutually part ways after he only scored one goal in nineteen games. He ended up signing with the Swiss club HC Fribourg-Gottéron of the National League-A. That season, he would sign with a third club, Rapperswil-Jona Lakers to end the season.

In 2014-15 he would return to the KHL when he joined the KHL Medveščak Zagre, playing twelve games and scoring one goal and one assist. In his last professional hockey season, Stewart would play with Jonquière Marquis of the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey in Saguenay, Quebec. He played 12 games and 11 playoff games with Marquis in the 2015-16 season, but the team failed to win the championship.

Retirement and Beyond

In 2014, Stewart decided to establish Stewart Hockey in Toronto. Its mission is to create an environment where players of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds can advance their hockey skills. After younger brother, Chris, retired, he joined the Stewart Hockey team. Their goal is to inspire the next generation of hockey and make it accessible to anyone who has the desire to play.

Most recently, Stewart added a new venture to his list in the form of Hockey Equality that aims to bring diversity to and make sure everyone feels equal representation. Through Hockey Equality, the team will develop players and even provide mentors to players to help them overcome any struggles they may face.

Stewart overcame a lot of adversity to make it into the NHL. He knew how much work it took to make it and to be able to stay. Even though he may not have spent a lot of time in the NHL, he still was able to do something that many young players dream of. In getting to have that experience, he now strives to provide that to other kids in the Greater Toronto Area. Through his work with Stewart Hockey and Hockey Equality, he is opening the doors for the next generation of NHL players.