The Incredible Story of Ivory Prince

Kyle Ferrara
Lifestyle Editor

The Gulf War pretty much took three days. What I remember vividly is the day that we went in. They had trenches, and they filled them with diesel. They lit ‘em up, and behind the trenches were Iraqi forces, probably 20 feet behind, and they were waiting for us to come in. So what the engineers did, they used these armor-plated D-9 bulldozers. They got like 4 or 5 together, and they just pushed the sand and the burning oil right into the trenches where those guys were and buried them. And the whole third corps went over those guys. That’s what I remember.

***

Before joining the Army, Ivory Prince faced a different kind of battle. At the start of the 1980-1981 season, Prince became the first African-American hockey player in the history of Erie Community College, an amazing feat for a man who taught himself to play hockey by reading a book.

In high school, he picked up Hockey Hall of Famer and legendary Canadian goalie Jacques Plante’s book On Goaltending. He read, he read, and he read. And then he bought goalie equipment, one piece at a time, with the money he saved from his paper route with the Buffalo Courier Express.

He picked up another job at Roosevelt Park, a public ice rink that’s since closed down, and after his shifts ended he’d hit the ice. He would skate for hours, learning to glide across the ice just by reading Plante’s book. By 1979, his senior year, his hard-work paid off. He earned a spot on Burgard Vocational High School’s varsity team.

“I enjoyed hockey so much that I picked up a book and learned how to play,” Prince said. “I didn’t have a goaltending coach until I got to college, and that helped me a lot, but I think I was just blessed with natural talent. And I enjoyed the challenge.”

But most collegiate fans didn’t care about the remarkable backstory of the man nicknamed ‘Smokin’ Eddie Lee Ivory,” after the Green Bay Packers star running back. Mostly, they just cared about the color of his skin.

“Monkeys don’t play hockey,” some yelled. The N-word was a common insult.

“They try to get in your head,” Prince said. “If they get in your head, they get you off your game. I just focused. It was tough, but after 5-6 games I was in the zone.

“My worst experience playing, had to be when we played Brockport. I skated off the bench and all I heard were negative comments. It stabbed me in the heart. I was [always] more concerned with the sport than the people that were playing the sport.”

Prince played at ECC for just one season. At the end of 1981, he lost his job. For a few years, he bounced around, living in Texas from 1982-1984. After that, he enlisted in the Army, and in 1990 he was sent off to the Gulf War.

***

It’s been 25 years since Desert Storm, but Prince is still affected by it. He wakes up at 5:00 every morning, no alarm clock. Even when he’s sound asleep, he can hear something, startle awake, and be unable to fall back asleep.

“After something like that,” he said, “you’re not the same person when you get back. You come home, and you feel alone. And it’s hard to relate to someone that hasn’t experienced it. I think more can be done for soldiers, and I feel for the guys they send to Iraq and Afghanistan. They have it tremendously worse than guys in the Gulf War.

“I think it’s screwed up. A person gets convicted of a crime, and they send them to a halfway house to have them adjust from prison life to regular civilian life. You go to the military, and you get trained to kill. Kill, kill, kill. And then you come home. They just send you home. Where’s the adjustment?”

Prince played hockey until he injured his right knee while working at FedEx in 2000­. He played in the Holiday Leisure Rinks hockey leagues, winning two championships. He knew his career was winding down because he was getting older, less flexible, and more injury prone. But worst of all, his heart wasn’t in the game anymore. He went into a shell.

“It was just an adjustment period. Trying to get back to normalcy after seeing the stuff that I saw.”

They were trying to get out of Kuwait – we called it the Valley of Death. There was a line of them, four or five miles long, and the A-10s would come in and drop bombs. It was like a barbecue. A human barbecue. And the smell.

Twenty-five years later, Prince sits on the main floor of the Canisius College library and talks about it.

“I lost a lot of good friends. 48 people went over out of the unit that I was attached to, and of that 48 that went over, 10 of them were gone the first year after they got home. They survived the war, but they couldn’t make it at home. What a human can do to another human, even if it’s for a just cause, kind of gets to you.

“Yeah . . .

“If there’s another way, it should be done . . .

“It brings back a lot of stuff . . .

“A lot of good people man . . .

“I’m sorry for the tears, man . . .”

***

“I think I could have made it,” Prince said of his hockey career.

He wanted to go play at a four-year school, Boston College or Michigan. He speculates he could have made it to the junior level. But as he pointed out, the military takes away the prime of your life. It took away the prime of his hockey career.

“The talent that was around then was pretty good,” Prince said. “It kept you on your toes, and I had a chance to practice all the time. “

Prince played hockey with his best friend every day after school. Prince would play in goal while his friend shot, and shot, and shot at him.

“I was the only person brave enough to play goal when we played with real pucks,” he said.

Prince was brave in net with his friends, and he was brave on the ice in front of verbally abusive, racist fans. He was brave while serving his country overseas, and he’s been brave for 25 years since returning home.  At 54-years old, he is graduating from Canisius with a bachelor’s degree in Digital Media Arts this May.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


© 2013 The Griffin. All rights reserved.
%d bloggers like this: