The Cube in Valencia had a group of unique visitors set up shop in the parking lot on Wednesday in the form of the National Hockey League’s “United by Hockey” Mobile Museum, which welcomed guests throughout the afternoon and evening.
Eric Knight, a tour manager with ALXMOBILE, which operates the museum, said that attendees got an opportunity to travel through the history of hockey and see some of the firsts in the sport, including the first Black player in the NHL in Willie O’Ree, the first south Asian NHL player in Robin Bawa and the first Black woman in the National Women’s Hockey League in Blake Bolden.
Knight acknowledged that throughout most of hockey’s history, it was known as a sport for affluent white people. He said one of the purposes of the museum is to dispel that myth.
“A lot of people are under the impression that to play hockey, there are three things: you had to be white, had to be Canadian, and you had to be male,” Knight said. “But time has gone on, we’ve moved on a little bit.”
Besides players making waves in hockey, the museum also highlighted executives and other team personnel who have broken down barriers. There were exhibits on Harnarayan Singh, the first Sikh to call play-by-play for the NHL in Punjabi and take part in an English-language NHL broadcast; Mike Grier, the first Black general manager in the NHL; and Alex Meruelo, the first Latino team owner in the NHL.
Knight’s favorite part of the museum, however, are the artifacts of some of those firsts in hockey that the museum is able to showcase.
Some of those artifacts are not actually from the NHL. Rather, they come from adaptive hockey, a way for people with special needs or a physical disability to play the sport.
Sled hockey, which was invented in the 1960s in Stockholm, Sweden, sees players sliding across the ice low to the ground with sticks to push them. Blind hockey also exists and was invented in 1936. That adaptive version of hockey sees the hockey puck enlarged from 3 inches across and an inch high to 5.5 inches across and 1 2/3 inches high.
“The larger size and sound allows blind and partially sighted players to track its location as it moves around the ice, and it is the single most important adaptation that makes ice hockey accessible to athletes who are blind or partially sighted,” reads an explanation of blind hockey at the museum.
Knight said that many players still have the drive to play but may be unable to do so after an injury. These adaptations help to give those people an opportunity, Knight said.
“Let’s say you’re playing hockey and you get injured, and all of a sudden, you can’t use your legs,” Knight said. “So now what happens is, the technology catches up with the drive and the passion, so now these devices allow them to kind of slip into the sled, make their way to the ice and still play the game of hockey.”
Larry Parsons is a Detroit native who now lives in Santa Clarita. He said he stopped by the museum on Wednesday because he’s always loved the sport.
Like Knight, Parsons understood the notion that not everybody could play hockey growing up, but he was happy to see the league highlighting those who have broken down barriers.
“That’s one of the attractions of the sport is it’s getting more of an international flair and it’s attracting people,” Parsons said. “It’s good to see people come from different skill levels, different places and see how they came up through the ranks. And that makes the league — you need a bigger pool of players because you have so many more teams.”
Kristen Kring, a Saugus resident, was with her two sons, Mason and Hudson, at the museum. Both of Kring’s sons play hockey for the Santa Clarita Flyers, a local travel hockey club that calls The Cube its home.
“I was coming to drop something off at The Cube and we had a few extra minutes, so we came to run in and see what it was all about,” Kring said.
Kring said she was amazed at the sled hockey exhibit, having never seen one up close.
“The very first exhibit with the sled hockey, I have never seen it close up so that was really cool to see,” Kring said.
As a lifelong hockey fan, specifically the Detroit Red Wings, Parsons is used to seeing the NHL’s top stars on TV. But seeing where they came from and what they had to battle through to get there was a special experience, he said.
“As the game has grown and expanded, you see people of different backgrounds and you see different paths they took to get to this plateau of playing professionally,” Parsons said. “Even if they didn’t, just to play at the highest amateur levels. And they all worked hard to get there, they all had different paths. And that’s what I appreciate about it, is you see them at the apex of their performance, but then you can appreciate the background and what it took to get there, and it’s a lot of work to get people who are committed to these kinds of sports.”
The NHL’s “United by Hockey” Mobile Museum has been touring the United States and Canada since the start of the 2023-24 season. Los Angeles was the 11th location that the museum has been to in the past couple of months, with every NHL city set to host the museum once this season, according to the NHL website. The next stop is in San Jose on Monday and Tuesday.