Mike Marson was the second African-American to ever play in the NHL. Bill Riley was the third. The Washington Capitals helped break down racial obstacles in the league, selecting Marson with their second pick in the 1974 entry draft and signing Riley to a five-game tryout contract in December of 1974 and then to an NHL contract in 1977. The two were the first African-Americans to take the ice since Willie O'Ree - who broke the league's color barrier - left the NHL in 1961.
Marson was just a teenager when he joined the Capitals and wasn't allowed the proper time to develop - suiting up right away for the squad. His best year was his rookie season when he notched 16 goals and 12 assists, fourth on the team in scoring. But statistics couldn't illustrate the incredibly high expectations the 19-year-old was expected to live up to.
Teammate Yvon Labre spoke about his time as Marson's roommate on the road: "I remember they had cameras set up in hotel lobbies just interviewing him about [being the second African-American NHLer]," he said. "To me, he handled it pretty well. Mike was very mature for his age. I don't know if it affected his play or not. Mike could skate and handle himself with anybody in the league."
"Mike's skills weren't honed very well as far as passing and receiving a pass," he added. "But he could skate with anybody and be physical with anybody. It's too bad [Marson and Joly] didn't get to develop more before they got to the National Hockey League because I think they both would have been much better hockey players."
Riley also didn't quite live up to his potential but did make a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with in the league. He racked up 249 penalty minutes in the 100 games he played between the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons.
Both players left the team prior to the 1979-80 season as Marson was traded to Los Angeles for Steve Clippingdale and Riley was taken by Winnipeg in the expansion draft.