Kraken honor John Utendale, a fixture in WA’s education scene and first Black player to sign NHL contract

Mickey Utendale was still somewhat amazed that her late husband was being honored at Thursday night’s Kraken game, nearly 16 years after his death.

Longtime Washington resident John Utendale wasn’t as well known as Willie O’Ree, credited with breaking hockey’s “color” barrier. But Utendale was the first Black player to sign an NHL contract, which he did with Detroit in 1955 — three years before O’Ree made his debut with the Boston Bruins.

With the Bruins in town Thursday night, the Kraken celebrated Black History Month by, among other things, honoring Utendale on the Climate Pledge Arena video scoreboards and introducing his family members to the crowd during a second-period television timeout.

Utendale was hired as the academic coordinator for the Washington State University athletic department and became a member of the Washington State Human Rights Commission. He joined Western Washington State College, now Western Washington University, and became the first Black faculty member at the Woodring College of Education — heading the Student Personnel Administration graduate program for the next quarter century.

He also helped form the Bellingham Area Minor Hockey Association and founded and coached the city’s junior hockey team and the Western Washington University Vikings squad. In 1980, he was an assistant training coach of the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team that won gold at Lake Placid.

Utendale retired from Western Washington in 2001 and died in Bellingham in 2006 at age 69.

Friday, February 25, 2022 - 4:14pm