Cree hockey team wins national title
Waswanipi Chiefs dedicate win to founding member killed in weekend road accident
A hockey team from Waswanipi, Que., got the chance to pay an emotional tribute to one of its founding members and win a big all-First Nations national tournament in Saskatoon over the weekend.
The Fred Sasakamoose "Chief Thunderstick" All-Reserve Invitation Senior Contact Hockey Tournament brought together 32 teams made up of some of the best senior Indigenous hockey players from all over Canada, including the Waswanipi Chiefs from northern Quebec.
The teams were playing for a total of $45,000 in prize money and bragging rights as one of the best Indigenous teams in the country.
"I can't believe it happened," said Chief's defenceman Chris Cooper after the game. "It's such a big event. There is so much talent here. It's an amazing feeling right now."
The tournament is named after Fred Sasakamoose, the first Indigenous player in the National Hockey League, who played 11 games for the Chicago BlackHawks in the 1953-54 NHL season.
It is Sasakamoose's dream to showcase Indigenous hockey talent and one day see an all-Indigenous team at the Olympics.
The Waswanipi Chiefs won the tournament in overtime against the Cross Lake Islanders from Manitoba by a score of 4-3, with the winning goal scored by Alex Cooper.
The tournament had a overall prize purse of $45,000, with the champions taking home $25,000 in prize money.
The win was made all the more overwhelming and emotional for the Chiefs by a tragic car accident that happened early Saturday afternoon northwest of Val-d'Or, Que., that claimed the life of Paul Ottereyes, one of the founding members of the Waswanipi Chiefs in the 1980s.
"A lot of people knew Paul," said Cooper. "He was the clutch of the team [back then]. He wasn't a flashy player. Like I told the guys, 'He had heart.' That's how I remember Paul."
Cooper says that organizers of the weekend tournament held a moment of silence for Ottereyes before the quarter final match.
"It was tough to go through that while we are here," said Cooper, whose wife Rhonda Oblin-Cooper is Ottereyes' niece.
Vern Cooper, another member of the Waswanipi Chiefs, said the team really came together to honour Ottereyes.
"This is pretty special for us. We lost a big member of our community and we had the extra gear and the extra motivation to get things done," said Vern Cooper in a rink-side interview with Curtis Standing of the Indigenous Radio Show in Saskatoon.
The Waswanipi Chiefs dedicated their win to Ottereyes.
Watch what Cooper had to say: