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Coleman to make NHL history tonight

Springfield Falcons goaltender Gerald Coleman will become the first NHL Diversity program player to dress for an NHL regular-season game tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the New York Rangers at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Coleman, from Romeoville, Ill., was selected by the Lightning in seventh round (224th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and was recalled yesterday from the Falcons.

Coleman was introduced to hockey through an NHL Diversity program, the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois Diversity Program, formerly Chicago P.U.C.K. He was the program’s representative at the 1997 Willie O’Ree All-Star Game in Chicago and returned as an alumni coach in 2001, when Tampa Bay hosted the event. Coleman also participated in USA Hockey’s Under-18 National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I couldn’t be more pleased and proud for Gerald, and I couldn’t be happier for all the people who have contributed their time and energy to supporting his development,” said Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player and NHL Diversity Director of Youth Development. “Tonight’s game is a very special milestone for the NHL Diversity Program. Gerald serves as a role model for all kids who set goals for themselves and work hard to attain them.”

Coleman, 20, has appeared in six games with Springfield this season, recording a 3-2-0 record with a 3.21 goals-against average and a save percentage of .895.

He spent the prior three seasons with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), helping them capture the 2005 OHL championship and the 2005 Memorial Cup.

Founded in 1995 in conjunction with USA Hockey, NHL Diversity provides support and unique programming to non-profit hockey organizations committed to offering the opportunity to play hockey to economically disadvantaged youngsters of all ages across North America. Since its inception, NHL Diversity has introduced more than 40,000 boys and girls to unique hockey experiences, including the annual Willie O’Ree All-Star Weekend.

Several former and current NHL players, including Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames, Anson Carter of the Vancouver Canucks and Kevin Weekes of the New York Rangers, serve as ambassadors of NHL Diversity and offer their support throughout the year through street and ice hockey demonstrations and instructional clinics across North America.

There are more than 33 inner-city, volunteer organizations in various stages of development that receive support from the NHL. In 2003, in conjunction with USA Hockey, the NHL developed the NHL Diversity Hockey Scholarship Program to provide boys and girls from United States-based NHL Diversity programs the opportunity to attend the annual USA Hockey Summer Camp in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as local hockey schools.