The Heritage Classic is staged to celebrate the game of hockey. But this year’s game in Regina is also paying homage to the First Nations and its impact on the NHL.
From Stanley Cup champion Craig Berube to up-and-coming Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear, First Nations players are shining across the NHL, thanks in part to those who came before them.
“All those guys have paved the way for First Nations people to get into the NHL,” said Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, on the Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada. “Freddy Sasakamoose, Reggie Leach. … All the guys have had a huge impact for First Nations across Canada. We’ve got to have more of that.”
Sasakamoose was the NHL’s first Canadian indigenous player and has been an ever-present First Nations advocate in hockey. From there, the likes of Leach, a Stanley Cup champion with the Philadelphia Flyers, and Stan Jonathan broke into the league.
“He’s one of our heroes,” Bellegarde said of Jonathan when reminiscing about his career. “He’s a role model.”
Role models who paved the way for the current crop of First Nations players in the NHL.