Wayne Simmonds grew up in Canada, but his NHL career has been spent in the United States with the Los Angeles Kings and the Philadelphia Flyers.
During a Wednesday morning appearance on Toronto’s Sportsnet 590, the winger was asked to share his perspective on the ‘significantly different’ environment between the two counties in terms of race relations.
“I don’t want to say it’s completely gone – racism in the game – because I believe it’s not,” began Simmonds. “I’ve had situations arise where I’ve had things said to me or done to me, but I think for myself it’s kind of a motivator.
“Growing up in Canada, I think it was a little bit different. Obviously hockey is life in Canada. So you grow up as a young black kid and everyone is playing hockey around you, so it’s easy to get into. It wasn’t that tough. My dad is actually a big fan of hockey. I don’t know why. He never played hockey. But he was the first one to ever get me on skates.
“But I think it’s just easier in Canada. I think the States is kind of, as it’s going now – I don’t want to say it’s segregated, but I think you feel it a little bit more. You feel it a little bit more in the States, whereas in Canada it’s – especially in Toronto, it’s a melting pot. You’ve got every single culture. You’ve got everything here under the sun. It’s like a rainbow. You just don’t feel it as much when you’re growing up in Canada. And I moved to the States I started to notice it a little bit more, but I’m always around good people so it doesn’t have an effect on me.”
Simmonds will be turning 28 on Friday, and his approach on the Flyers has naturally been transitioning to more of a leadership role with age.
“I’ve got to be way more responsible nowadays, that’s for sure,” laughed Simmonds. “I remember being younger and playing in Los Angeles, and having the older guys look after me. Matt Greene, Sean O’Donnell, guys like that. They always had our back, the younger guys, and they always watched out for us. So I’m kind of trying to take on that role now. I’m trying to be an older player, be more responsible, just lead the way on and off the ice for the guys that are coming into the Philadelphia Flyers and the young players that we already have.
“We’ve got a tremendous hockey culture in Philadelphia and I’m just happy to be part of it.”
Simmonds’ game is a fluid blend of skill and physicality, and the latter tends to lend itself well to defending his teammates on the ice. Occasionally, when needed, that will manifest itself via a fight.
“It’s just the way I am. The way I’ve been raised. I’ve always been kind of a protector of people around me,” said Simmonds. “I think for myself, I like to do it a lot – well, not a lot – but I like to do it sometimes just to let the young guys know they’re comfortable. Guys will come in and they’ve got tremendous skill, but they’re nervous at the same time…
“I think for me, it’s just trying to get the best out of that player’s game, and just letting them know and allowing them to work their game and play to the best of their ability, knowing there’s always somebody on your team that’s going to have their back no matter what the situation is.
“So that’s kind of the reason why I do it.”
Source: Sportsnet 590/ Transcript: Nichols