A tough left-winger with a strong work ethic, Val James made two brief NHL appearances in the 1980s. For the most part he was a "policeman" on a number of minor pro clubs between 1978 and 1988.
Born in Ocala, Florida, James grew up on Long Island, New York then played in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts. After his second junior season, he was selected 184th overall by the Detroit Red Wings. He took a year away from hockey in 1977-78 before initiating his pro career with the Erie Blades of the Northeastern Hockey League. James spent two more years in the minors before he signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Sabres.
James was a fixture on the Sabres' top farm club in Rochester and was called up for seven games in 1981-82. When he stepped on to the ice in the Sabres' livery, he became the first American-born black to play in the league. Prior to the 1985-86 season he was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The next year he returned to the NHL for four games under John Brophy, the man who coached the Long Island Ducks team James watched as a youngster. James retired in 1988 after splitting his last season between the AHL and IHL.