BOSTON – Ayodele Adeniye walked around the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend events in Boston recently, holding evidence of what might be.
The 23-year-old Hockey ice for Everyone alumnus showed kids a copy of the NCAA Division III championship trophy he won as a defender at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, which defeated State University of New York Geneseo 5-2 in title fight at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York, March 26th.
“This shows that literally anything is possible,” said Adeniye, who learned to play with the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, in Columbus, Ohio, a hockey is for everyone. “As Willie says, ‘If you say you can, you can. If you say you can not, you’re probably right.” It’s a way of thinking. “
John Haferman, CIHC’s CEO, said Adeniye’s becoming an NCAA champion is inspiring, not only for participants in his program, but for others Hockey is for all-affiliates in the United States and Canada.
Hockey is for All is a network of 26 independent non-profit youth hockey organizations in more than 40 locations in North America that use the sport to improve the lives and communities of under-represented, under-served, and marginalized populations.
“You need to have someone who can say, ‘Look, it can be achieved,'” Haferman said. “We’ve never had anyone (with the CIHC) reach an NCAA team before, so just for ‘Ayo’ to play, so all of a sudden, wow, he’s a national champion? You can’t take that away, it’s a piece of the story. It gives us that spark. ”
Adeniye said he has been able to achieve and overcome obstacles, setbacks and no-sayers on and off the ice by following the hockey gospel from O’Ree, who has guided him since he was 6 years old.
O’Ree became the NHL’s first black player on January 18, 1958, when he debuted with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum.
He played 45 NHL games over two seasons (1957-58, 1960-61) and scored 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) despite being legally blind in his right eye, the result of an injury he had sustained by playing junior hockey.
Adeniye has been able to advance in hockey despite being born with crooked eyes.
“I’ve had seven eye surgeries, so I relate a little bit to him in a way,” he said of O’Ree. “Seeing what he’s been able to do inspires me to achieve my dream and hopefully play in the NHL.”
Adeniye has traveled across North America to pursue that dream and play on AAA and junior teams in Ohio, Florida, New Jersey, Iowa and Carleton Place in the Central Canada Hockey League.
He achieved a goal of playing NCAA Division I hockey when he skated for the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2020-21; he had no points in 21 games.
But Adeniye endured a low season of uncertainty after the university abruptly suspended the only Division I hockey program in the southeastern United States on May 5, 2021, after failing to secure a long-term conference affiliation.
“It was a crazy, surreal year,” Adeniye said. “When I got the phone call that we were not going to be a team anymore, it just motivated me more. I’ve been through so many things that I just thought, ‘We’ll see what happens.'”
Adeniye entered the NCAA transfer portal, where athletes from all three NCAA divisions send announcements about their intent to transfer, and where coaches can search for players.
He was looking for a hockey home. Adrian coach Adam Krug was looking for a magnificent, right-handed, defensive player who plays a simple game and can consume many minutes.
“I talked to the Huntsville guys and reached out to Carleton Place, where he played junior hockey, and in the end, it looked like Ayo would fit in well,” said Krug, brother of St. Louis Blues defender. Torey Krug and former minor league defender Matt Krug.
Adeniye scored 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in 28 games in the regular season and quickly became a fan favorite on a team that went 31-1 in the regular season.
“You know our guys love him, our coaching staff loves him,” Krug said. “My son plays 8U hockey for Toledo Cherokee, and I hear about Ayo from the guys all the time.”
Krug said Adeniye brought a stylish confidence to Adrian’s lineup from the short dreadlocks flowing from his helmet to the colorful covers he wore on his skates to match Adrian’s home, away or special jerseys.
Adeniye, a member of the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee formed in 2021, said it is his way of trying to change the hockey culture.
“I just hope it turns a few heads, changes the game, maybe brings a few different kids from different backgrounds into hockey because they like the fashion aspect,” he said.
Adeniye said he also wants to be a change agent by becoming the next player from an NHL diversity program to play in the NHL.
Gerald Coleman, a goalkeeper who played in a HIFE predecessor known as NHL Diversity, became the first with the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 11, 2005, when he played the third period of a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Coleman, selected by Lightning in the seventh round (No. 224) of the 2003 NHL Draft, appeared in another NHL game when he played 23:16 in an overtime loss of 6-5 to the Florida Panthers on March 20, 2006.
“Everyone says, ‘Sit back, enjoy the championship,'” Adeniye said. “I’m trying to do it, but I’m still looking to the future, man, because this is not the end of what I want to do.”
Pictures: Adrian College Athletics, Gabe Haferman, Lisa Ramos