Canucks' Ron Delorme's emotional connection with hero Fred Sasakamoose

Former Chicago Blackhawks player, and one of the first Indigenous pro hockey players, Fred Sasakamoose is honoured at the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks game in Edmonton on Friday, December 29, 2017. (Jason Franson/CP)

Wednesday night, Ron Delorme placed four wooden sticks on the walkway to his home. The first three are hockey sticks — belonging to son Blair, grandson Haydn, and one of his own. (A puck is next to each blade.) The fourth was presented to Delorme during the 1982 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then, he was a 26-year-old winger, part of the Vancouver Canucks’ miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final. During that incredible and unexpected stretch, the family of Chief Dan George presented Delorme with something special — representing power and strength. (Chief George, an activist, actor, author and Officer of the Order of Canada, died in 1981.)

Delorme kept it ever since. Power and strength. Words that he’d use to honour Fred Sasakamoose, the man he calls, “Our Aboriginal hero.”

Sasakamoose, who died Tuesday at age 86 after being hospitalized with COVID, overcame enormous odds to become one of the first Indigenous players in the NHL, dressing for 11 games with Chicago in 1953-54. Delorme, who grew up speaking Cree, part of Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation, learned he was a distant relative of Sasakamoose’s through his mother Gertrude’s grandfather.

But he made his first real connection to his idol as a young boy in North Battleford, SK. Sasakamoose’s team was in town to play. Delorme’s father, Tony, took Ron to the game.

“After the game, we waited,” Delorme said. “Freddie reached over, called me down, and handed me a stick. I will always remember that. He had that Freddie Sasakamoose smile. A pleasant smile.”

Delorme developed into an NHL talent, leaving home for Prince Albert as a 16-year-old. Prior to that, he played with Sasakamoose in a few tournaments.

“There were a couple of us who were young and good hockey players,” he says, starting to laugh at the memory. “(Our opponents) were taking liberties with us. So Freddie ended up scrapping with some of those guys and taking care of us. He was supposed to be the star, but he stepped in.

“I always kept in touch with him. He said he saw something in me.”

Drafted in 1975, Delorme played 546 games in the NHL and World Hockey Association. He never left the Canucks, who claimed him on waivers in 1981, and currently is the team’s chief amateur scout. In 2018, he was inducted to the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame.

“It was very emotional for me,” Delorme said. “(Sasakamoose) drove from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation. I was honoured with a Star Blanket, and they played the traditional drum song. He stood beside me. I looked to my left side and thought about my dad, because he had passed on. I looked to my right, there was Freddie Sasakamoose. It made me emotional. Here’s my hero beside me, honouring me to be there. That I will never forget.”

That’s why Delorme sought a special touch to honour his hero. Sticks and pucks for hockey. Power and strength to personify the man.

“I know he would have had a huge traditional funeral. So many people would have gone to pay their respects. I would have gone. But, because of COVID, we can’t. My initiative was to invite past and present Aboriginal players to honour and pay respect to Fred and his family.”

“Hockey’s played a major part in my life. Fred opened the doors, paved the way for me and others.”

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