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Larry Kwong became the first non-white person to play in an NHL game when he dressed for one game for the New York Rangers on March 13, 1948.Handout

Kristina Heintz spent a few hours on Monday talking to Grade 8 students at the National Sport School in Calgary about her dad.

It was 75 years to the day that Larry Kwong, the Canadian-born son of a Chinese immigrant, became the first non-white player to appear in a game in the National Hockey League.

A speedy 5-foot-6 right wing, he lined up for the New York Rangers on March 13, 1947, against the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. Despite his extraordinary ability, he played in the NHL for just one minute in a piece of history that has largely been forgotten.

A month later Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in Major League Baseball and 10 years after that Willie O’Ree became the first Black player to reach the NHL.

On Wednesday, five years after his death at age 95, a nomination will be submitted to the Hockey Hall of Fame requesting that Kwong be inducted in the Builder category, same as O’Ree was five years ago and Herb Carnegie last year.

“He faced the same hurdles Willie O’Ree did and accomplished the same thing,” said Moezine Hasham of Toronto, who is among a handful of people leading a campaign called It’s Larry’s Turn. “It is incredibly important to amplify this story that has been hidden.

“It is a story of perseverance, of belonging and of service and all of those things are woven through his journey through hockey.”

Kwong grew up in Vernon, B.C., at a time when Chinese people in Canada had rights stripped from them by government. He was the 14th of 15 kids and his father died when he was only five years old. His family ran a general store and he was raised during the Great Depression.

Kwong looks over a wall of photos of him from this hockey career in his Calgary home on Jan. 21, 2008.Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Larry begged his mother to let him play hockey, and he learned on a frozen pond with a pair of oversized $4 skates and mail-order catalogues strapped to his legs in place of shin guards.

Despite all that – and rampant cultural and racial prejudice – he made it to the game’s highest level.

“I am proud that my dad overcame all that adversity and didn’t let it get him down,” Heintz said. “He rose above it. I am glad his story – and that of some of sports’ other pioneers – is being told.

“It is up to us to keep them alive.”

Kwong grew up listening to Foster Hewitt describe Maple Leafs contests on the radio on Saturday nights and showed a knack for the game even though he didn’t play on an organized team until he was 16.

He was a star right away and at 18 in 1941 joined the Trail Smoke Eaters, an elite semi-professional club in B.C. that only two years earlier had won the world ice hockey championship. The following year he was invited to training camp by the Cleveland Barons but could not attend because Canada refused to process documents he needed to leave the country. In 1944, he was drafted into the Canadian Army and spent two years playing for the Red Deer Wheelers of the Central Alberta Garrison Hockey League. He returned to the Smoke Eaters and won a provincial senior championship in 1946 and was then signed to a contract by Frank Boucher to play for the New York Rovers, a farm team for the Rangers.

He became so popular that he was given the keys to Chinatown and helped draw large crowds to Madison Square Garden for Rovers games. He was the team’s leading scorer in 1947-48, and became the first player of Asian descent to line up in the NHL that spring.

He was sent back to the Rovers the following day and was never called up again, even though teammates who were nowhere near as talented received call-ups.

Known by fans as the Chinese Clipper, Kwong went on to have a successful career in Canada and the United States, and in 1951 was the most valuable player in the Quebec Senior Hockey League for the Valleyfield Braves. The following year he finished second in the league in scoring to Jean Béliveau and over the course of a long career played against Carnegie and numerous future NHL players, including Dickie Moore and Jacques Plante. Against the latter, Kwong once scored two goals 47 seconds apart.

Kwong visits the outdoor hockey rink in the Hamlet of Priddis, Alta. He finished his hockey career playing and coaching in Europe.Lucas Oleniuk/The Globe and Mail

He finished his career playing and coaching in Europe – where he became the first Asian to coach a professional team.

“His is just the classic hero’s journey story,” said Chad Soon, a teacher in Vernon, B.C., who is also behind the effort to get Kwong inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. “He broke down barriers while confronted with in-your-face racism every day.

“He opened the eyes of people who thought Chinese were inferior by showing his ability and playing Canada’s game.”

Along with other documentation, the submission includes a petition with 8,611 signatures from people who believe Kwong is worthy of the honour. No Asian has ever been inducted.

“A lot of people get hung up on the fact that he only played one minute in the NHL,” Soon said. “But at the time he played he was a household name. He was a legend in the Quebec Senior League and he broke stereotypes everywhere he went.”

He was a trailblazer for players of Asian descent who have followed in his footsteps, including Paul Kariya, Richard Park, Matt Dumba, Jason and Nick Robertson, Nick Suzuki and Kailer Yamamoto.

Hasham, the founder and director of a charitable organization called the Hockey 4 Youth Foundation, is selling hoodies in Kwong’s honour on the organization’s website. Proceeds will go to setting up a program in his honour in Calgary.

“Larry did a tremendous service to the game of hockey,” Hasham said. Hockey 4 Youth’s mission is to promote social inclusion for teens who face barriers. “The next step is to hopefully see him enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He made it at a time when it would have been easy to be dismissed by race.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect year when Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in Major League Baseball. It also included an incorrect team and and incorrect name for the person who signed him up for a contract. This version has been corrected.