NHL.com’s Q&A feature called “Five Questions With …” runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds:
Wayne Simmonds has played in the NHL long enough to know how to focus on things he can control while ignoring most everything else.
The 30-year-old forward has had to deal with questions about his future all season, and with the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET less than two weeks away, they are becoming more frequent.
Simmonds is in the final season of a six-year contract with an average annual value of $3.97 million and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“That stuff I can’t really do anything about,” Simmonds said. “Just come, play my game and I’ll try to control what I’m doing on the ice.”
What Simmonds is focused on is helping the Flyers make a push toward a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Flyers (25-24-7) are eight points out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
He is also enjoying the NHL celebration of Black History Month, which has put a spotlight on players like Willie O’Ree and Mike Marson.
Here are Five Questions with … Wayne Simmonds:
What does it mean to you that the NHL is celebrating Black History Month the way it is?
“I think it’s awesome. I think the NHL is taking steps to recognize and pay tribute, pay homage, to people like Willie O’Ree, Mike Marson. All the originators of the game. For people like myself, these are guys we looked up to. They allowed us to become part of this League.”
You’ve talked a lot in the past about how much Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL, means to you. How old were you when you first learned about him?
“I want to say 6 or 7, but I remember my dad bought me a book, ‘Black Ice,’ and it was about hockey in Nova Scotia, how they had a league there way before. Probably I was about 10 years old when I started digging and doing my research and doing projects.”
Now Willie is your friend. What does that mean to you, knowing that you can reach out to a legend of the game anytime you need to?
“It’s really cool. It was something that was really unexpected. Because of him I was able to make it to the NHL. Without him I wouldn’t be here. For myself, it’s a great honor to even be associated with someone like Willie O’Ree.
“I still remember the first time I met him. Just starstruck. I just swelled up. I remember we were walking out of the (players) tunnel (at Staples Center). He was with his daughter and somebody else. We have the same agent, Eustace King, and I remember he brought him down to the tunnel and he was like let’s go, we’ve got to meet Willie. I remember walking out of the tunnel and I met him and his daughter. I was like a little kid. It was really cool.”
Who were the black players you watched growing up?
“My first original favorite player was Jarome Iginla. Just because he was playing at the time and he was someone stylistically, that’s someone I’d like to play like. So that was awesome. Also, someone like Tony McKegney, he was a great goal scorer.”
You’ve had a charity ball hockey event, Wayne’s Road Hockey Warrior, for underprivileged and underserved boys and girls ages 5-9 for a few years where you grew up, in Scarborough, Ontario. How important has it been for you to give back to minority kids the way the previous generation did for you?
“It’s been huge. We didn’t do it last year, would have been our seventh year, because I got married, had a pretty full plate over the summer. But just hearing and even seeing kids, since that time back six years ago, seven years ago, kids have started playing junior, have graduated to the Ontario Hockey League and stuff like that, it’s amazing, just the impact you have. The way I do it back home it’s not only for black players, it’s for anyone underprivileged, anyone who doesn’t necessarily always get the chance to play hockey, come out and play some ball hockey and be a part of something bigger. I always see parents around after the fact, they tell me how much I’ve impacted their kids. It’s pretty heartwarming, pretty special.
“I got this whole idea through (former NHL goalie and current NHL Network analyst) Kevin Weekes because I attended his hockey school when I was younger. I always had that memory in my mind, it always stuck with me, resonated with me. As I got older I said why not try to do something like what Weekes did. My program, any time we have it, we have kids who have graduated, who can’t play anymore and now they’re counselors. Those kids want to pay it back. … We had a ton more kids the summer before that came back that had participated as players and came back to help out and counsel the kids.”
Originally published at https://www.nhl.com/news/five-questions-with-flyers-forward-wayne-simmonds/c-304729346