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Two hockey development coaches drop their gloves over use of “First Nation Elites”

BY Joshua Grant Jul 5, 2019

“People are confused and they were calling him and asking if he was involved with us,”

Tommy Neeposh

Donald Lucas of Flamme Olympique Hockey recently laid claim to the name “First Nations Elites” – the same one adorning the jerseys of Tommy Neeposh’s AAA development teams since Neeposh started organizing Indigenous teams for elite youth tournaments in 2017.

Confusion arose this past May, when a team not associated with Neeposh was registered for a tournament as First Nations Elites Bantam AAA. After parents inquired as to who the team belonged to and asked if Lucas and Neeposh were now working together, Lucas altered the name to “Flamme Olympique (First Nations Elites)”

“People are confused and they were calling him and asking if he was involved with us,” said Neeposh. “It’s really unprofessional what he’s doing. He’s using our name and taking advantage of it to gain recognition.”

“I’m meeting my lawyer because [Neeposh] said to people that I’m crooked,” Lucas told the Nation, when asked about the situation.“He’s trying to put my business down.”

Lucas insisted that “First Nations” has always been a part of his Flamme Olympique brand and countered criticism that he was using the publicity of Neeposh’s team name to his advantage with the fact that he had already registered the name with the Quebec government.

Timing is a big part of the controversy. While Flamme Olympique Hockey has been in the Quebec business registry since August 2010, the name “Flamme Olympique (First Nations Elite)” was formally registered on May 25, 2019.

After two years as a talent scout and development coach, Neeposh and his hockey teams have made national headlines and raised a ton of awareness around racism in hockey. When his Bantam AAA First Nation Elites were subject to questionable officiating and taunts by both opposing teams and parents in the crowd at the Coupe Challenge Québec AAA tournament in Quebec City in 2018, stories, videos and photos of what happened were widely shared in the media and online.

Following the incident, Neeposh and his players were contacted by Ryan O’Reilly of the Stanley Cup champions Saint Louis Blues and invited to attend a Blues and Senators game in Ottawa this past NHL season.

They also drew attention for fighting back against racism when Neeposh formed a team of half Indigenous and half non-Indigenous players for a tournament in Pierrefonds this past May. He named them the Fight Racism Elites and emblazoned their jerseys with the hashtag #Itsnotokay alongside anti-racism logos.

“He does the same thing I do,” said Neeposh. “I grab all the First Nation elite athletes in hockey and I form teams every spring. First Nations Elites had huge exposure through everything I’ve been trying to do.”

Neeposh says he does all the scouting, team management, booking and registration for his teams. “Most scouts don’t go up north” to find talented Indigenous players, he said, adding that he also looks at M’ikmaq and Innu prospects. “That’s why I call them First Nation Elites.”

Lucas was quick to respond, saying that he’s been in the business for six years and has always associated the title “First Nations” with his development program because most of his players come from Indigenous communities in Quebec and Ontario. He also noted that he’s had the name “Flamme Olympiques Hockey First Nations” marked on his car in English and in French for two years.

“I’m not there to argue with the guy, I’m there for the kids,” said Lucas. “I travel all of Canada, I don’t have any sponsors – it’s not the same thing. This has to stop because he’s ruining my reputation, telling people I’m charging too much and this and that. I’ve had a good reputation for six years.”

Lucas said that the main difference between the two development programs is that Flamme Olympique is open to D1, D2 and D3 skill levels while Neeposh’s First Nation Elites focuses solely on top tier AAA prospects at the D1 level. Lucas also stressed that he feels the $619 price tag for each player on his teams is fair because he offers three tournaments, a jersey and pair of socks that go home with players as well as a gift.

“If ‘Elites’ is a big thing for him, I don’t mind calling the government to take it out [of the registered name],” Lucas said. “But I’m still going to be called First Nations because all of my players are First Nations. All of the tournaments we do are still elite tournaments but it’s for the experience and for the friends, it’s not all about winning.”

As for Neeposh, he plans to continue his work to promote Indigenous talent both within the Cree Nation and elsewhere, especially now that the Cree Nation Bears are no longer around.

“I just finished my hockey GM and scouting course so I’m leaning towards making this a legitimate business, getting a trademark, copyrighting a logo and registering with the Canadian government,” he said. “Our focus is to get these boys exposure. We understand the price of what it is to play down south.”

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Joshua Grant is a Communication Studies graduate from Concordia University who is passionate about people, music, sports and storytelling. Former production coordinator and social media manager, he has been writing for the Nation magazine since 2014.