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Business ᐊᐱᒥᐱᐦᑖᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐋᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Indigenous Hockey Showcase opens doors for young players

BY Joshua Janke May 8, 2024

In an athletic display of talent and opportunity, the Indigenous Hockey Showcase held at the Slush Puppie Centre in Gatineau April 12-14 was attended by 100 Indigenous student-athletes from various communities. 

Representing Cree, Innu, Atikamekw, Ojibway, Mississauga, Kanien’kehá:ka, Huron, Inuit and Algonquin, these athletes showcased their skills on and off the ice. The event also attracted representatives from US prep schools and colleges, creating a platform for these young players to explore avenues for combining education with hockey.

The weekend was testament to the aspirations and resilience of Indigenous youth. The event was deeply personal for some, like Zane Washipabano, son of the late Charly Washipabano, a lead organizer of the showcase. Charly, who passed away in 2023, was widely known across the Cree Nation as the first James Bay Cree to play NCAA hockey and his spirit and love for the game left lasting impacts on Eeyou Istchee sports. 

Zane is following in his father’s footsteps and was a strong presence throughout the weekend. He encapsulated the spirit of the showcase in a few words: “We are here to show our power and our strengths. And to show who we are to the scouts, both as players and people.” 

It was a moment of honouring legacy and paving the way for future generations. “I am here at the showcase today, first and foremost because it was something my late dad was so involved in,” said Zane.

Nine First Nations communities were present, with participants from across Quebec and Ontario. Zane remarked on the camaraderie, stating, “It’s kind of cool seeing all the different Cree Nations here.” 

Showcase participant Amberly Neeposh stated that for female hockey players, the showcase meant an opportunity to play and be scouted on a broader stage. “All the Indigenous girls get the chance to play far away – I’m pretty excited,” she said, noting how many connections she made with other girls’ teams. 

The showcase was more than just a display of hockey skills. Physical testing was led by Mike Diabo from Kitigan-Zibi, in collaboration with the Ice Hockey Research Group from McGill University and the Indigenous Hockey Research Network represented by Dr. Jordan Koch.

One event head organizer, former NHL player John Chabot, expressed pride in the turnout. “We want the coaches to see the kids in practice, how they work, how they listen, and their attention to detail,” he said, highlighting not just the athletic prowess but the discipline demonstrated by the players. 

The plan is to expand the showcase so that it includes all age groups. Chabot encourages young Cree players to give it their all this season, because their chance to be at the next showcase will come quicker than they expect.

“If you’re under 13, you get on the radar,” explained Chabot. “If you’re an under 15, you’re at the next step, and under 17 you’re at that point where you can be invited to the showcase the following season.” 

Even if many won’t make the NHL, Chabot is a firm believer in the valuable life experience to be gained from competitive team sports, especially those that bring Indigenous communities together. He says that the confidence, resilience and work ethic gained in team sports like hockey are invaluable skills that will help these athletes for the rest of their lives. 

“If you can translate that to every other part of your life, and if you’re willing to do that, hockey can be a vehicle to give you an opportunity,” said Chabot. “We are using hockey to open doors.”

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Joshua Janke lives in Montreal and is studying English Literature at Mcgill University. He is passionate about writing, social justice, and creating art.