(October 12, 2021) With a new season of hockey starting today, we thought we’d give a shout out to the top Indigenous Hockey Players in the NHL. With the help of Trege Wilson who contributes to the The Hockey Writers, we’re featuring the best of the best of Indigenous hockey players in the NHL.
Since the beginning of the game in 1917, 7623 players have been on an NHL team, about 80 of whom have been Indigenous. For a full list of Indigenous players, check out Native Hockey.
Hockey is played in community rinks or any piece of ice that can be skated on in villages, towns, and cities on reserve and off.
“I think we as First Nations people are probably some of the biggest supporters of hockey across Canada,” said Reggie Leach, the NHL.’s first Indigenous superstar told Stephen Smith in the New York Times in 2018. Leach, who is Ojibwe, spent 13 seasons in the N.H.L., mostly with the Philadelphia Flyers, winning a Stanley Cup in 1975.
The first recorded Treaty Indigenous player was Fred Sasakamoose, who played 11 games with the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1953-54 season. He writes about his hockey career and being taken away from his family to go to Indian Residential School when he was seven years old in his memoir, Call Me Indian, published in May 2021.
Yet, it would be remiss if we don’t acknowledge the contribution of George Armstrong.
Between 1950 and 1971, Armstrong played 21 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and was captain for 13 seasons. He scored the final goal of the NHL's "Original Six" era as Toronto won the 1967 Stanley Cup.
But “Armstrong’s grandparents were trappers – an Algonquin mother and an Irish father – they did not live on reserve. And because Armstrong’s mother, an Algonquin woman who described her work in Falconbridge as “washing the floors for the bigshots,” married a non-Indigenous man — an Irishman who worked at the mine — she fell victim to the loss of her status, due to the gendered rules of the Indian Act.” according to Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, sudbury.com. Armstrong passed away in January 2021 at the age of 90.
Theoren "Theo" Fleury
Fred Sasakamoose: Call Me Indian October 12, 2021