Northern Manitoba First Nation celebrates return of NHL hero Brady Keeper
Hundreds of kids line the streets, fill arena to see Florida Panthers defenceman
Northern Manitoba's newest hockey hero received a welcome usually reserved for a Stanley Cup champion, even though his team didn't even qualify for the playoffs.
Less than three weeks after making his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers, defenceman Brady Keeper returned to his home on Pimicikamak Cree Nation on Wednesday.
According to George Muswaggon, one of the event's organizers, it was a day few people in the community, 529 kilometres north of Winnipeg, will ever forget.
"This was over the top," said Muswaggon. "There were kids lined up on the road all the way along the parade route."
After a procession that lasted two hours and consisted of some 100 vehicles, Muswaggon said the homecoming celebration arrived at the community's arena, where Keeper, his parents and his agent were presented with star blankets. Signed posters were also distributed to the hundreds of children in attendance.
"There had to have been over a thousand kids in the arena. It was packed," Muswaggon said.
"They could actually be within touching distance of an actual NHL player that was born and raised in this community."
As the first player from Pimicikamak to make the big leagues, Muswaggon says Keeper, 22, is the perfect role model. He described him as humble, kind and respectful, thanks to the solid upbringing he received.
"NHL players don't grow on trees. It's actually a rarity. If we could use the hope that he has brought to the community, the hope that he's brought to the kids, the positive effect of that will naturally lead to other areas."
Keeper's homecoming was set to wrap up on Wednesday night with a feast, music and dancing. But when asked whether the community will return to normal on Thursday, Muswaggon emphatically said no.
"This will be a subject of conversation for some time to come yet," he said."It's more far-reaching than sport. It is about how young people view themselves and each other."
With files from Erin Brohman