Reggie Leach brings troupe of hockey greats to play
WIKWEMIKONG—Wikwemikong held a successful ‘Winter Chill’ day on Saturday, topped up with a number of First Nations NHL greats, including Bryan Trottier who, only the night before, was named as one of the top 100 NHL players of all time at a star-studded banquet in Los Angeles marking the All-Star Weekend and the 100th anniversary of the NHL.
As soon as Mr. Trottier entered the Thunderdome (Wikwemikong Arena) fans had their Trottier posters, jerseys and more at the ready, and the hockey great was only too happy to oblige with his Sharpie while also letting his adoring admirers sport his three Stanley Cup rings (he’s a seven-time Stanley Cup champion).
“They’re heavy!” one fan announced, rings on his fingers.
Mr. Trottier caught a ‘red eye’ flight from Los Angeles Friday night after the Los Angeles event, arriving at the Sudbury airport by 8:30 am Saturday morning along with some other NHL alums. Following an afternoon nap, Mr. Trottier was ready to give his best to the Wikwemikong crowds and hit the ice at 8:30 Saturday night.
The day began with fun and games for the whole family, including a volleyball tournament, science fun with Science North, face painting and bouncy inflatables. The Wikwemikong Tribal Police were even on hand to hand out ‘warrants’ for those on the naughty list, including this reporter who was put in the slammer for five minutes ‘for asking too many questions.’
Mr. Trottier was joined by fellow First Nations NHL greats Reggie Leach (most notably with the Philadelphia Flyers), Arron Asham (Canadiens, Islanders, Flyers, Penguins, Rangers), Dan Frawley (Blackhawks, Penguins), Denny Lambert (Mighty Ducks, Senators, Thrashers), Jamie Leach (Panthers, two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins, and also Reggie Leach’s son), John Chabot (Canadiens, Penguins, Red Wings) and Ric Nattress (Blues, a Stanley Cup with the Flames, Maple Leafs, Flyers), who does not claim First Nations heritage. Brandon Nolan of the Carolina Hurricanes was supposed to be part of the roster, but couldn’t attend due to an illness.
Some of the alumni hosted two clinics on Saturday, one with pre-novice and novice players, the other with atom and peewee players.
Before dinner, the NHL greats headed upstairs for a meet and greet and autograph session emceed by Chris ‘the pleasant’ Pheasant before sitting down to a delicious pasta dinner with their fans.
Mr. Leach, the (adopted) hometown favourite who lives now at Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, thanked the event organizers for inviting them to Wikwemikong.
“We, as First Nation hockey players, the reason we do this is because I’m proud of all these guys that are First Nation and playing in the NHL,” Mr. Leach told the audience. “It shows the youth that they can move on (from the reserve) and do something. We’re (the alumni group) playing right across Canada and it’s only going to get bigger and better.”
Mr. Leach’s son Jamie also spoke, noting that he and his father have the distinction of being the only First Nation father and son duo to have their names on the Stanley Cup.
“When we first got here, we were watching the novice players,” Jamie Leach said. “It was nice to come into the rink today and see our emblem (Shoot to Score) on a lot of the youths.”
“It’s an honour to be here,” Ric Nattress said, noting that he grew up in Hamilton, losing his father at a very young age. Mr. Nattress spoke of his strong mother who pushed him hard in all that he did, even hockey.
“I wasn’t the best at first (at hockey) but I worked hard every day and eventually earned a Stanley Cup.”
“I love coming to the communities,” John Chabot enthused. “This team has been organized because we’ve seen other NHL players going into our community and telling their stories when we could be here telling our own stories and there could be even more (First Nations) players up here,” he added, gesturing to his teammates.
“It’s about achieving and overcoming what people live through every day,” Mr. Chabot continued. “It’s about working hard, persevering and achieving. Being in the NHL is an achievement, be it one game or 100 games. We can do what everyone else can do.”
Dan Frawley, hailing from Nipissing First Nation, said he grew up in the arena. He recalled to the crowd his older brother, who played in plenty of Native (sportsmen) hockey tournaments for Nipissing, many of which ended up against Wikwemikong in the championship game. “I saw a lot of good hockey,” Mr. Frawley added.
“My story is to never, ever give up,” Denny Lambert said. Mr. Lambert told his story of working hard and always hoping to be drafted to the National Hockey League but it did not happen as quickly as he had hoped. After spending some time under the tutelage of Soo Greyhounds coach Ted Nolan in the OHL, Mr. Lambert still wasn’t drafted, but he didn’t give up. He continued to go at it and finally achieved his dream and made it to the NHL. Today, retired from the NHL, he’s a police officer with the Anishinaabe Police.
Lastly, Mr. Trottier, the previous evening named as one of the NHL’s best-ever 100 players during its first century, spoke to the crowd.
“One of the greatest honours, dreams, was to sport an NHL jersey,” he said. “I wanted to raise that cup, score a goal, as a kid.” To get to that point requires practice and hard work no matter where you’re from. In his case, small town Saskatchewan, population 300.
Mr. Trottier spoke of the athleticism that is inherent for many First Nations people, as is storytelling, music and the arts.
“The first time is one of joy, thrill and goosebumps, putting that jersey on,” Mr. Trottier shared. “The first time I hoisted the cup, feeling the names engraved, the weight of the cup—you feel like a weight lifter!” he joked. “I am so proud and honoured to be here.”
Before breaking bread with hockey fans of all ages, Wikwemikong Chief Duke Peltier thanked his guests. “To share with us your accomplishments and your goals with our young little stars, you are a testament that dreams do come true.”
The game, NHL Native alumni versus Wikwemikong Tribal Police, was a fun event filled with plenty of laughs although everyone is still unsure as to who actually won the game.
By the end of the third period, the teams were tied 3-3 with the game ending in a shootout, with both teams shooting at the same time. While the score is a toss-up, a good time was had by all.
Mr. Leach was effusive in his praise of his good friend Mr. Trottier regarding the honour he received Friday night.
“Bryan and I have been friends for years,” Mr. Leach said, noting he played with him during his rookie year and that the two played together during Mr. Trottier’s first NHL All-Star game in 1980.
“For him to get this award, it’s well deserved,” Mr. Leach said. “Everyone should be very proud of him for the things he’s accomplished. It’s very, very rewarding.”
The next outing for the Native NHL alumni is at the beginning of March in Deline, Northwest Territories.