Dirk Graham, Blackhawks Made Black History for the NHL

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Dirk Graham, Blackhawks Made Black History for the NHL

Chicago Blackhawks

On Jan. 4, 1988 the Chicago Blackhawks traded Curt Fraser to the Minnesota North Stars for veteran center Dirk Graham. In parts of five seasons in Minnesota, Graham has become a respected player and leader on the ice.

The following year, after trading then-captain Denis Savard to Montreal, the Blackhawks named Graham their new captain — making him the first Black captain in the history of the NHL.

Graham would spend six seasons wearing the “C” in Chicago, one of the longest runs for any Blackhawks player before Jonathan Toews. He won the Selke Trophy for his performance during the 1990-91 season, one of three Blackhawks to ever win the award. Graham, Toews and Troy Murray are the only Blackhawks to win the prestigious award given to the best defensive forward in the league.

He also authored one of the all-time great individual postseason performances for the franchise in Game 4 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins. Graham put a team that was accepting defeat on his back and scored a hat trick in what would prove to be the Blackhawks’ elimination game at the hands of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Co.

When Graham retired in 1995, he became an assistant coach for the Blackhawks on Craig Hartsburg’s staff. He stayed there for only one season before taking a break and then turning to scouting — where he is still working today (he’s been back in Chicago in that capacity a few times this year).

While scouting is where he now works, he wasn’t done with the coaching bug. And Chicago would eventually need a leader behind the bench. When the Blackhawks named him the 31st head coach in franchise history on June 29, 1998, he became the first Black head coach in NHL history as well.

Graham only lasted 59 games as the Blackhawks’ head coach; he picked an awful time to try to lead the franchise. But his hockey acumen led him back to the scouting world.

As we celebrate Black History Month, the role Graham and the Blackhawks played together in the history of the league is important for us to recognize and celebrate.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab