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Cree hockey player from Wetaskiwin nominated for prestigious Hobey Baker Award

Devin Buffalo, an Cree hockey player from Wetaskiwin, has been nominated for the most coveted award in NCAA hockey.

Over the past 20 years, only 3 Canadians have won coveted NCAA honour

Devin Buffalo is one of 74 NCAA hockey players nominated for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. (Dartmouth College Varsity Athletics)

A Cree goaltender from Wetaskiwin is up for a national award as the NCAA's top hockey player.

Devin Buffalo, 24, is one of 74  Division 1 hockey players nominated by NCAA coaches across the nation. The award honours collegiate hockey players based on statistics and athletic ability, but also recognizes scholastic achievements and character on and off the ice.

Devin Buffalo grew up in Wetaskiwin, Alta. He hopes Indigenous youth see him as inspiration to attend an Ivy League school. (Dartmouth College Varsity Athletics)

Fans can vote online for their favourite players to make the top 10. Buffalo, who plays for Dartmouth College out of Hanover, N.H., is currently in the top 5 in voting. A selection committee will cut the list of 10 down to three, followed by the announcement of the award winner on national television.

NHL stars Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau are among the high-profile winners of the award.

Buffalo, a member of the Samson Cree Nation, said he was surprised when he found out he had been nominated earlier this month.

"I was excited," he said. "I didn't expect it. To see the list of names, it's pretty amazing to be a part of it. If I won, it would be really amazing, especially being an Indigenous player coming from Alberta."

He was also nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award for his involvement with the World Indigenous Games, North American Indigenous Games and the Alberta Indigenous Games. He wasn't able to crack the top-five list of nominees.

The Dartmouth Big Green is currently tied for fifth in the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Buffalo sports a 12-8-1 record and .907 save percentage. The team starts playoffs this weekend against St Lawrence.

Buffalo is in his fourth year at Dartmouth with a major in government.

"To have four years of honour status at an Ivy League school is just truly amazing," said Pat Buffalo, Devin's father. "I think that demonstrates his character.

"If he doesn't win, the fact that he was nominated is huge."

Devin Buffalo is in his fourth and final year of hockey at Dartmouth College. (Dartmouth College Varsity Athletics)

Buffalo grew up in Wetaskiwin but spent plenty of time at  Maskwacis, where his father currently lives.

Pat Buffalo said his son is an example for people living on a reserve to chase their dreams.

"He has blazed a trail for others to follow," the proud father said. "He's definitely a success story. There's a lot of talent on the reserve here, but many of them cannot adapt to leaving the reserve and doing anything successful. He's definitely an exception."

The path for Devin wasn't always easy. He didn't make AAA midget hockey until the fourth and final year of his eligibility.

"You go into tryouts and you have to accept that there are stereotypes," he said. "You have to overcome them and prove to the coaches that you have the best attitude out there, and that you worked the hardest out there."

The difference maker in Drumheller

Prior to committing to Dartmouth, Buffalo played for the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

He was picked up by the Dragons in a trade in 2014, his final year of AJHL hockey. The team lost in the AJHL final.

Brian Curran was the team's head coach at the time. He called Buffalo the "difference maker" and said he was not surprised his former player was nominated for the Hobey Baker.

"I was very glad to hear that he's nominated," said Curran. "I can only imagine the growth of his maturity through his experience in college. I certainly hope he wins it."

Only 3 Canadians have won the award over the past 20 years. 

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc