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MJHL proudly celebrates strong Indigenous roots

With files from Kyle Prystupa, MJHL Manager of Programming & Communications

In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day, the MJHL celebrates the rich history of Indigenous players, coaches, management and staff that continue to be a fabric to the success of the league.

“In the spirit of reconciliation and continued collaboration we’re proud to acknowledge our strong connections to the Indigenous community, we’re excited to highlight the achievements of Indigenous players, coaches, and staff on this special celebration day,” said Kevin Saurette, MJHL Commissioner.

Historically there is a deep collection of achievement from MJHL Indigenous alumni with NHL names like Reggie Leach, Ted Nolan, and Theo Fleury, the MJHL has had countless Indigenous players participate and succeed in the league.  Each season a significant segment of the player pool represents an Indigenous background such as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

The most recent player highlight comes from Brady Keeper of Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake) who advanced to the University of Maine (NCAA) through the OCN Blizzard.  In the spring of 2019, he earned an NHL contract with the Florida Panthers after just two college seasons, playing in his first NHL game on March 28, 2019. Brady spent the 2020-21 season between the Syracuse Crunch (AHL) and Florida Panthers.

Zach Whitecloud from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, a Virden Oil Capitals product, advanced to Bemidji State University (NCAA) and signed an entry-level deal with the Vegas Golden Knights in March of 2018.  Whitecloud enjoyed a strong rookie season as a professional and was a major factor in the Chicago Wolves (AHL) run to the 2019 Calder Cup finals. After splitting time between Chicago and Vegas the following season, Whitecoud has become a mainstay on the Golden Knights blueline to this day.

One of the most famous MJHL alumni, Jordin Tootoo (Inuk) played a pivotal season in his path to the WHL and eventually the NHL with the OCN Blizzard in 1998-99.  At just 15, Tootoo scored sixteen goals and thirty-seven points in forty-seven games along with over two hundred penalty minutes helping the Blizzard win the MJHL title that season.

A talented pair of players with Indigenous backgrounds who are recently connected to the Swan Valley Stampeders organization have also gone onto professional hockey. Tristan Langan spent the 2020-21 season in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears while Riley McKay suited up for the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL.

Currently the MJHL has two clubs operating on First Nation communities, the OCN Blizzard founded by Opaskwayak Cree Nation in 1996 as well as the Waywayseecappo Wolverines established in 1999 by Waywayseecappo First Nation.  Waywayseecappo is currently the only First Nations owned and operated Junior A franchise in Canada. Both the Wolverines and Blizzard often carry a contingent of Indigenous players and staff. The Blizzard have been to the league final nine times in their history winning an impressive five consecutive titles spanning from 1999-2003.

Developing into one of the MJHL’s premier forwards, Nakodan Greyeyes of Pinaymootang First Nation followed up his rookie season in Dauphin with a 74 point campaign in 2019-20. Greyeyes will be a significant part of the Kings roster in 2021-22.

Bryden Sinclair of Peguis First Nation was named Captain of the OCN Blizzard ahead of the 2021-22 MJHL season and is committed to play NCAA Division 1 Hockey at the University of Maine.

Recently, Norway House First Nation member, Tony Apetagon spent two seasons in the MJHL with OCN and Winnipeg before he committed to play for the University of Manitoba Bisons (USPORTS). During the pandemic, Apetagon also spent time as a coach for the Blizzard.

Off the ice consistently around the league, team staff and personnel also represent Indigenous backgrounds as coaches, managers, directors, and support staff.

Waywayseecappo Wolverines Head Coach & General Manager, Taylor Harnett from Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation has guided the Wolverines to three straight seasons of .500 or better for the first time in franchise history. Wolverines Governor, Morley Watson hails from Ochapowace Nation and is the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice Chief.

The Métis Nation has always been well represented in the league with many achieving all-star titles and league scoring champions.  Names like Norm Fay and Justin Tetrault were both leading scorers of the league in the early 2000s.

On a yearly basis, several MJHL prospects  go on to represent Manitoba at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships where in recent years, Team Manitoba has won Gold (2017 & 2019).

Throughout each season the MJHL and it’s member clubs acknowledge that they compete on Treaty 1, Treaty 2, Treaty 4, and Treaty 5 lands, collectively the traditional territories of Anishinaabe, Assiniboine, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, Dene, and Inninnowuk peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.