Ottawa

'Pretty special': Indigenous team that faced racist taunts treated to NHL game in Ottawa

After a racist incident last year, a team of Indigenous hockey players from Quebec got to watch the Ottawa Senators face off against the St. Louis Blues this week — thanks to the work of Blues centre Ryan O'Reilly.

Racist taunts were hurled at the team in Quebec City last year

St. Louis Blues centre Ryan O’Reilly, centre, stands between a player with the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA hockey team and coach Tommy Neeposh. O'Reilly invited the club to take in Thursday's game against the Ottawa Senators. (Tommy Neeposh )

After a racist incident last year, a team of Indigenous hockey players from Quebec got to watch the Ottawa Senators face off against the St. Louis Blues this week — thanks to the work of one NHL player.

Last May, racist taunts were hurled at the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA hockey team — a club made up of players between the ages of 13 and 15 — from the stands during a tournament in Quebec City.

The video of the incident sparked outrage after it went viral.

"It was one of the most awful experiences … I've ever experienced," the team's coach, Tommy Neeposh, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "It was just so bad. It got way out of hand."

Neeposh said he tried to keep his cool that day.

"I just told the boys … let's focus on the next game," he said. "I told them, you guys might face this for the rest of your lives. Why not chase that dream?" 

Julien Marshall of Cantley, Que., has been playing hockey for four years. He says it's common for the the First Nations Elite Bantam AAA team to experience racism. (Radio-Canada)

Meeting O'Reilly 'pretty special' 

When the people in the stands made their racist taunts, Julien Marshall, a player on the team, said he just shook his head and thought about how "stupid" they looked. 

The video of the incident captured the attention of Ontario-born hockey player Ryan O'Reilly, who plays centre for the St. Louis Blues.

He ensured the team got to attend Thursday night's game in Ottawa in person, and O'Reilly also met the players. 

"It was really fun to see someone who personally reached out to you … it was pretty special," Marshall said.

"He [told me], 'You know, keep your head up and don't worry about all that stuff. Because you know, just there's no space for that in the game.'" 

The First Nation Elites Bantam AAA hockey team were invited to watch the St. Louis Blues battle against the Ottawa Senators. (Tommy Neeposh )

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning