It had all the makings of a feel-good hockey moment — except the guy who scored the goal was black.
Soon after Joel Ward eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Wednesday with a Game 7 overtime goal for the Washington Capitals, Twitter erupted in a shower of n-words and other racial insults.
"Go play basketball, hockey is a white sport," ''4th line black trash" and "white power" were some of the nicer phrases tweeted by angry Boston fans. One said that the fact that a black player scored "makes this loss hurt a lot more."
The Bruins and the NHL quickly condemned the tweets that cast a pall over one of the most thrilling moments of the season and numerous Boston fans went online to denounce the racist tweets. But the outburst was a reminder of the difficulties hockey has had overcoming the idea that black people are unwelcome on the ice or in the stands.
"These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization," the Bruins said in a statement.
Anson Carter, a black winger who played four seasons for the Bruins during a 10-year NHL career, said he was "very surprised" by the reaction because the Boston fans had treated him well.
"I thought we were beyond that. But then again, nothing surprises me," Carter said. "I know racism exists. But if people think all NHL fans are racist, that's the furthest thing from the truth."
He called Ward's goal, which propelled the seventh-seeded Capitals into the second round, one of the biggest NHL moments ever for a black player, rivaled only by Jarome Iginla's exploits for the Calgary Flames. Ward had scored just six goals all year before he slammed home a rebound at 2:57 of overtime to give the Capitals a 2-1 victory.
The reaction to Ward's goal "sets the league back in terms of perception," Carter said. "The league has come a long way. To the casual fan, people may have in the back of their minds that it's a racist sport, and this validates that idea."
Ward called the tweets "shocking" but brushed them off, saying that he wasn't even aware of them until a teammate brought them to his attention on the plane ride back to Washington.
"It doesn't faze me at all," he told USA Today, adding that he had never experienced any racism in the NHL, only a few remarks at youth tournaments when he was growing up in Canada.
"I think it is just kids," Ward said. "It has no effect on me whatsoever. I've been playing this game long enough and I've not had any encounters of that nature."
Willie O'Ree was the league's first black player, breaking into the Bruins' lineup in 1958, and there are now 28 blacks and a total of 68 non-whites in a league of 876 players. There have been a few racial incidents over the years, including a banana thrown at the Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds in a preseason game last fall.
"It's disgusting," Simmonds said Thursday about the reaction to Ward's goal. "Things like that have happened to me before. It's not something you want to happen, but it's sad in this day and age that it continues to happen."
The NHL said in a statement that the tweets were, "ignorant and unacceptable. The people responsible for these comments have no place associating themselves with our game."
Said Capitals owner Ted Leonsis on his blog: "Shame on these folks who decided to take to their keyboards and show their ignorance and their racism and hate."
After Ward's decisive goal, Carter tweeted "Warrrrrrrrrrdo!!" and was soon subjected to several racist tweets himself. Carter said he tracked down one of the tweeters, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, and called the school president's office Thursday. Later that afternoon, the student called Carter to apologize, and Carter accepted it.
He said that when he got traded to Boston his rookie season, his parents were afraid for him to play there.
"They had heard all the talk about Boston being racist, but I got nothing but love there," said Carter, who scored 70 goals for the Bruins. "I was a black hockey player — so what. I was a Bruin, and that's all that mattered."
Jesse Washington covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. He is reachable at http://www.twitter.com/jessewashington.