Minnesota woman named 1 of 3 finalists for NHL community award

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A Minnesota woman is one of three finalists for the NHL’s community award, which fans can help her win.

Monday, the NHL announced Meredith Lang as a finalist for the fifth annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, given to someone who has used hockey to positively impact a community, culture or society.

The other two finalists are Noel Acton of Baltimore and Ryan Francis of Nova Scotia.

As a finalist, Lang has already won $5,000; if she wins, she’ll get another $25,000.

“Hockey should be for everyone,” Lang said.

As a co-founder for the groups Hockey Niñas and Minnesota Unbounded, Lang is being recognized for her work in introducing and encouraging young girls of color to learn and play hockey.

Hockey has been and continues to be a big part of Lang’s life. She started playing in eighth grade, played for Richfield High School and knows the difficulties players of color can face in a sport with mostly white players.

“For us to be able to make barriers a little bit smaller, for people to hurdle, I think is very important and that’s the work that we love doing,” Lang said.

Hockey Niñas helps gather information and share resources to make it easier for those who want to play hockey.

Minnesota Unbounded — a league comprised entirely of girls and women of color — has helped grow the number of competitive girls’ hockey teams from 31 girls in U10 and U12 teams, to more than 50 families from 20 different hockey organizations on U10, U12 and U14 teams, as well as pilot programs for U6 and U8 teams.

The NHL says Lang’s work has supported families from Mexico to California to New York.

“It’s very inspiring [that] my mom got nominated for this award,” said Aubrey Lang, Meredith Lang’s daughter and a player for Minnesota Unbounded. “She works very hard in the community to create a better environment for all kids of color in hockey.”

Online voting is open until April 17 — you can vote once a day. The winner will be announced in June.

More about Lang’s story, including her reaction when she found out she was a finalist for the award, can be found here.

The award honors former NHL forward Willie O’Ree, who became the first Black player to compete in the league on Jan. 18, 1958.