Angela James, opponents have described her as “Steel on Skates.” When she is on the ice, you know the game is about to get good. Her playing style has been called dominant and excelled in any position on the ice she was put into. Not only has James been the only black woman to be the Canadian captain at a senior level but also the first openly gay player in the sport. James has earned many honours from her career in hockey and has a legacy like no other player. James’ story and her impact in women’s hockey is not one to forget and it all starts in Toronto.
Flemingdon Park was not the best part of Toronto. James stayed away from the trouble and found her escape in hockey. Since there were no girl teams around, she joined a boy’s house league in her neighbourhood. Her mother, Donna, had threatened legal action if she wasn’t allowed to play. During her first year, she was moved up to peewee, where 8-year-old Angela James played with 11- and 12-year-old boys. James was the top scorer that year. This became the only year she played there because the house league made it boys-only the following year. Angela joined the Newtonbrook Saints, a senior women’s hockey team only a bus ride away when she was 13. Her single mother and family had made sacrifices so Angela could still grow her talent in hockey.
James attended Seneca College and played for them. Coach Lee Trempe had her play defense instead during the 1982-83 season to have James set up plays and incorporate her teammates. Although this position was very new to her, she still became the top league scorer and was voted the OCAA’s MVP that season. James had ended the 1984-85 season with 50 points. She kept the top league scorer spot for 3 straight seasons. James also led Seneca to its first championship. During her first year at Seneca College, James had struggled academically. She was also playing softball and had been working jobs to help pay bills. James started to take her studies seriously after arguments with Trempe.
Angela James’ OWHL career began in 1980 at 16. Even for her young age, James became the leading scorer for eight seasons and voted MVP for six. Her team went to many championships, league and provincial. In 1998, her team joined the newly formed NWHL, going from the Toronto Aeros to the Beatrice Aeros. James scored 38 goals and 55 points and was voted MVP. In the 1999-2000 season, the Aeros had won their first title.
James’ international career began in Ottawa in 1987, when the first Women’s World Championship tournament took place. Scoring 11 goals in five games, James had led the Canadian team to its first gold medal. In Finland in 1992, James led Canada to its first championship title. James did this again in 1994 at Lake Placid, NY and Kitchener, ON in 1997.
When the roster for Canada’s 1998 women Olympic team was announced, James was left off by head coach Shannon Miller, shaking the hockey world to its core. Opponents, teammates and fans were excited to see James on Olympic ice. Canada ended up losing to the United States in the final game of the tournament. At the time of the cut, James had been unknowingly suffering from Graves’ Disease. The most significant symptom of the disease is the weight loss, so James wasn’t strong as she once was. In 1999, James played in the Three Nations Cup, the last international tournament she’d ever play in. James then retired from competitive hockey in 2000.
Angela James’ legacy in hockey is one hockey players and fans need to learn about. From a young age, she possessed a talent for the game that got her out of her rough Toronto neighbourhood. James is a pioneer for women’s hockey. She led the way for more women to play the sport they love. From playing road hockey with the neighbourhood boys to earning her spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Angela overcame racism and discrimination and became the first superstar in women’s hockey.