A memorable television spot in the 1970s depicted a boy and his grandfather chatting in a skiff. Their conversation went something like this: "Grandpa," the boy begins, "Danny says I'm prejudiced."
"Who is Danny?" the grandfather asks.
"He's my Jewish friend."
"Well, then, you are prejudiced," Grandpa explains, "because you think of Danny as your Jewish friend, and not just your friend."
A quarter century later, in the gradually diversifying NHL, the challenge for fans is to think of the Boston Bruins' Anson Carter as a hockey player, not as a black hockey player. "That's how I'd like it to be," says Carter. "I know that people see what they see, and they see that I'm different. But I don't play the game any special way because I'm a black man."
No, but he does play it exceedingly well. Entering his third full season, Carter is one of the game's most promising stars. He's deceptively fast, strong on the puck and tenacious in all areas of the ice, and his rapidly developing scoring touch resulted in 24 goals in 55 games last year, easily the best goal-scoring pace on the Bruins. In the playoffs Carter lifted Boston into the second round with crucial goals in the fifth and sixth games of its series against the Carolina Hurricanes. "The bigger the game, the better he plays," says Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque. "He's got the whole package: speed, strength, moves and vision. He can be scary. And because he lives right and prepares himself, he's going to get better."
Carter has been improving since his formative years in the Scarborough section of Toronto. The middle of the three children of Horace and Valma Carter, who were raised in Barbados, Anson grew up in a brick home on a sun-dappled, middle-class street. He remembers his childhood as "a free and easy time," yet even as he gamboled with his peers—playing marathon games of tag, racing around on bikes-Carter was determined. Older kids invariably selected him to play on their side in pickup street-hockey games. If Carter failed to score in one of those matches, he would trudge home seething and spend the last hours of daylight in his driveway wristing tennis balls into a net.
Carter only began playing organized ice hockey at age eight, which made him a geezer in Scarborough, where many boys go straight from the cradle to the face-off circle. He had made up his mind by then that he wanted to be a doctor and, much to his parents' amazement, had concluded that being a hockey star was the best way for a Canadian kid to get into a top U.S. college and pursue that dream. But as years passed, Carter became more devoted to hockey, advancing through local leagues and establishing himself as one of the best players in the region.
Many of the black friends he had played hockey with dropped the sport in favor of football and basketball. In high school they chided Carter for choosing a sport in which virtually all the players and coaches were white. "They got on me and said I shouldn't be playing a white man's game," says Carter. "It was like they'd become too black to play hockey. I didn't understand it."
That mentality was abhorrent to Carter-he winces while recalling it—and, besides, he loved the game too much to be swayed. By the time he started junior hockey at 16 he was a solid pro prospect, though at 5'11" and only 150 pounds (two inches and 52 pounds less than today) he was thought by NHL scouts to have questionable durability. The Quebec Nordiques selected him in the 10th round, 220th overall, of the 1992 entry draft. That fall he went to Michigan State on an athletic scholarship and entered the premed program. "When I watched him in juniors, I saw he had tools, but I wondered how much he would fight for a loose puck and how strong he was," says Spartans coach Ron Mason. "Pretty soon you could see he would fight for anything. By his sophomore season I thought he had NHL potential. He made himself good in every facet, and he was the kind of player who made sure we won a game."