Growing up in Oshawa, Ontario, professional ice hockey player Saroya Tinker was often the only black player on the ice.
“I’ve always been a bit of an outsider in hockey in terms of the comments I received and experienced racism in the game,” said the 24-year-old defenseman for the Premier Hockey Federation’s Toronto Six.
Tinker started skating when she was about four years old and started playing hockey at the age of six.
At 17, Tinker was accepted into Yale University and played hockey for the Ivy League School for four years.
“I really wanted to play professionally because I know there’s not a lot out there for little black girls who want to play hockey,” she said.
During her senior year at Yale, Tinker said she struggled.
“I wanted to find another community,” she said.
Her mother discovered a group called the Black Girl Hockey Club.
Founded by Renee Hess, the California-based nonprofit aims to inspire and sustain passion for the game in the black community. Tinker began volunteering on the club’s scholarship committee, eventually raising $32,000 to found Black Girl Hockey Club Canada. The Canadian chapter launched in November 2022.
Closing the NHL deal
Like its American predecessor, Black Girl Hockey Club Canada offers a Jumpstart-funded scholarship, financial assistance program, community programs and mentoring opportunities for girls across the country. According to Tinker, there are also plans to provide equipment upon request, and the group is inking with the National Hockey League as a donor.
The club will also launch a mental health and wellness program.
“We’re really just fostering a community, making sure the girls have what they need to be successful and friends to get ahead in hockey, whether they want to play professionally or just want to have fun,” Tinker said .
Tinker says black girls deserve to be confident and know they have a place in the game.
“I felt like I always had to take out a bit of my blackness to fit in,” Tinker said. “I think my game thrives best when I’ve made the decision not to apologize for who I am.
“That’s what we really want is for a piece of representation to be recognized and to make sure they can’t apologize for who they are.”
Teamwork makes the dream come true! pic.twitter.com/mqky3kwuPp
“Perfect person to do what she does”
Toronto Six coach Geraldine Heaney said Tinker brings a positive attitude to the rink.
“I think she’s the perfect person to do what she’s doing and give young black girls a safe place to play,” Heaney said.
Heaney began playing hockey as a child after her family immigrated to Canada from Ireland. Heaney said girls’ hockey has changed since then.
“I felt like I wasn’t allowed and had no place to play.”
Heaney played for the Toronto Eros for 25 years. She won a silver medal for Canada at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Tinker was invited to play at the association’s All-Star weekend in January, where she said many girls from the club had turned up to support her.
The Toronto Six are in second place alongside Boston Pride.
“We’re looking forward to winning the Isobel Cup this year,” said Tinker, who is preparing to play the Buffalo Beauts in Toronto on Saturday.
Heaney said that while women’s hockey has grown over the years, it still needs support.
“I think people need to get out there, and once they’re watching, they’re pretty impressed with the level of hockey these women are playing,” Heaney said. “We play the game just as well.”