Thrashers Top NHL With Highest Percentage Of Black Players

ATLANTA,None — The Thrashers have won a lot lately and they are doing it with the most diverse group of players in the National Hockey League.

In a league that is close to 93 percent white, the Thrashers began the season with five of the league's 32 black players on their roster.

"You get the odd question, especially here. You play hockey and then you are from Sweden?" said Jonny Oduya.

"It's an honor when kids come up and say, ‘We love you and have your jersey.' It turns a lot of heads," said Dustin Byfuglien.

Nigel Dawes was sent down to the minors in late October, but Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Anthony Stewart and Oduya have been turning heads all season long.

Byfuglien is one of the top-scoring defensemen in the NHL and growing up, he says he never envisioned a day there would be so many black players on one NHL team.

"It's nice to go down into the record books. It's nice to see that, and here in Atlanta, it helps bring minorities out of the woodworks," Byfuglien said.

Willie O'Ree became the first black player to skate in the NHL in 1958 and over the years, the number has grown.

From zero players in the 1970s … to 26 last decade and 32 now.

With more than 50 percent of the population African-American, Atlanta is second only to New York in the total number of black men and women.

The organization told Channel 2 Action News sports director Zach Klein that it did not seek out black players -- they just wanted the best players.

"We are going to continue to market to all of the Atlanta community … as we need more than just the die-hard hockey fans. We are going to be hitting market vehicles that touch all constituencies," said Tracy White – Thrashers SR. VP Sales and Marketing

"I never look at it as 'black and white.' Hopefully other people will do the same thing," said Oduya.