Dr. Chris Williams wants to thank Matt Dumba.
Hockey should thank Williams.
Williams, 57, is a doctor of pediatrics. He grew up in north Minneapolis. He spent Saturday night coaching the North Commons hockey team at the Parade Ice Gardens, after stopping by the Northeast Ice Arena for a team photo with a different club he coaches. He wore a Wild face mask, a North Polars sweatshirt and a Northwestern University beanie and jacket.
Williams was the rare youngster in his neighborhood who felt drawn to hockey. To paraphrase Doc Rivers, he loved the game, but the game did not love him back.
That didn't keep him from giving back. He started a youth league in Minneapolis in 1986 that combined with Dale Hulme's New Directions Youth Ministry, part of Hulme's work at St. Olaf Lutheran Church.
Now Williams is coaching his sons, Marko, 8, and Lazar, 6. "I definitely can relate to what Matt Dumba is doing, and what he's been through," Williams said. "One of my missions is to help ensure that other kids who are following behind me have a better experience than I did, especially in high school.
Two weekends ago, Dumba, a Wild defenseman, organized the first Hockey Without Limits Camp, in Roseville. Williams attended.
What Dumba and Williams have in common is not being white in a sport overwhelmingly populated by white people, and having experienced racism on ice.
Last season Dumba, who is biracial, either knelt and raised a fist during the national anthem before Wild games to protest systemic racism and the killing of George Floyd.
Williams didn't face racism when he first laced on skates — only when he tried to advance in the game.
He was about 7 when he became a fan of the Minnesota North Stars. One Christmas, he received skating lessons, held at Met Center. Years later, he would become a medal-winning adult freestyle figure skater.
When he turned 12, Williams started playing at the Harrison Park rink. Because of his parents' work schedules, he and a friend would walk a mile and a half to the rink from their house in the winter. He remains friends with Bruce Anderson, one of his first coaches. "The best coach I ever had,'' Williams said.
Race wasn't an issue on that team. "But it was for other teams,'' he said. "We heard the 'N' word quite a bit from players on other teams.''
He was fond of watching the Minnesota high school hockey state championships, so at Marshall-University High he tried out for the hockey team.
"I played football, where being Black or white didn't matter, and Marshall was pretty integrated,'' he said. "I didn't think anything of trying out for hockey until I showed up and got the looks, like 'What are you doing here?' It wasn't all the players. There were good guys on the team. But a handful weren't too comfortable with having me there. Not just because I was Black, but because I wasn't part of this small hockey clique at the school.
"It was often suggested that I go play basketball. But I'm terrible at basketball."
In high school games, "I always seemed to have a target on my back,'' he said. "It was the 'N' word, 'Aunt Jemima.'"
Racism kept him from playing his senior year. At Northwestern, he joined the club hockey team. "It was a much more welcoming environment,'' he said. "But there were still comments about a Black guy playing hockey.''
His friends and members of his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, would come to games. "One time a white teammate was sitting next to me on the bench and said, 'No offense, but I've never seen this many Black people at a hockey game,'" Williams said. "I said, 'No offense taken — neither have I.'"
Williams started the youth hockey program while attending medical school at the University of Minnesota. When he moved to Detroit, he coached youth hockey there. He moved back to Minneapolis in 2001 and resumed coaching in the program he started.
Saturday night, he gently coached his diverse, coed North Commons team against Hiawatha. Marko scored a goal.
"I haven't had any interactions with Matt Dumba, but I was at his event," Williams said. "My son was there, too. I definitely can relate to what Matt is doing and what he's been through.
"This is a great game. It should be a great game for everyone."