July 1, 2023
The winning head coach of the first playoff game in the history of the Western Inter-Collegiate Conference (now known as the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference) will be inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame later this month in Canmore. John Utendale was behind the bench when NAIT edged Mount Royal 4-3 in the first game of the two game total point final series on February 10th , 1967 in Edmonton.
Monumental wins bookended his two year stint as NAIT's head coach while he was the institute's first director of physical education and donned the jersey of the Edmonton Nuggets. On January 15th, 1966 in Edmonton, NAIT downed Camrose Lutheran College in the first ever regular season game of the Western Inter-Collegiate Conference. On February 11th, 1967 in Edmonton, NAIT won the first ever conference playoff series when Mount Royal refused to play and forfeited the second game of the aforementioned two game total point final series. The conference title was the first of an unprecedented 17 for the blue and gold.Studying and sport often went hand in hand for the Victoria Composite High School graduate. While earning his teaching certificate at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, he was the UBC Thunderbirds leading scorer. While earning a bachelor degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, he played semi pro hockey to pay the bills. While earning a master degree at Eastern Washington State College in Cheney, he played full time for the Spokane Jets. While earning a doctorate degree at Washington State University in Pullman, he was academic coordinator for the athletic department.
From 1972 through 2001 at Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, the Edmonton native held a number of posts at the Woodring College of Education, coached the WWU Vikings hockey team to four straight Western United States Collegiate Club championships from 1982 through 1985 in a span of nine seasons and represented WWU as the faculty athletic representative to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for over a decade including a two year team as chair of the faculty athletic representative council. He helped found the Bellingham Area Minor Hockey Association and the Bellingham Blazers Junior 'A' Team which he also coached.
Utendale had numerous connections to the organization which is known today as USA Hockey. He served as a regional director on what was then Amateur Hockey Association of the United States. The highlight of his hockey experiences was being an assistant training coach with 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team that is remembered for the "Miracle on Ice" at Lake Placid.
His importance in hockey history cannot be downplayed. As a forward with the Edmonton Oil Kings in 1955, he became the first black player to sign a National Hockey League contract when he put the pen to paper on a Detroit Red Wings offer. Although he attended Wings' training camps and played with the Wings' farm club (the Edmonton Flyers), he never received the call to the show. Willie O'Ree broke the NHL's color barrier in 1958 and stated that it could easily have been Utendale, Stan Maxwell, Herb Carnegie or Art Dorrington who could have been the NHL's first Black player.
Nearly 16 years after his passing at the age of 69 in 2006, Utendale was honored by the Seattle Kraken during Black History Month on February 24th, 2022. He was later inducted posthumously into the Western Washington University Athletic Hall of Fame on May 21st, 2022. He will be immortalized in the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame on July 16th, 2023.