Saskatoon

Long lost NHL game film featuring Indigenous pioneer Fred Sasakamoose screening in Saskatoon

Thursday, at Saskatoon's Roxy Theatre, Sasakamoose and the Blackhawks will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in a replay of a game originally contested in 1954. It's the only known NHL appearance of Fred Sasakamoose captured on film.

Fred Sasakamoose broke the ice in the NHL as one of the league's first Indigenous players

Former Chicago Blackhawks player Fred Sasakamoose is honoured at the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks game in Edmonton on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Fred Sasakamoose will forever be a part of sports history as one of the first indigenous Canadians to lace up the skates in the National Hockey league.

All I wanted to do was go home. That's all I wanted. I didn't want to play hockey.- Fred Sasakamoose 

But aside from those who witnessed one of the 11 games Sasakamoose played with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1950s, few have seen him play in the league.

For years, the only images of his time on the NHL ice were those conjured by Sasakamoose himself.

"There was a lot of doubt…that an Indian kid 65 years ago, could to make it to the NHL. I was brought up [on the] reserve. I've come from a poor community," Sasakamoose said. "I remember walking into a stadium and I remember walking and there were two ropes and there were people on the side, there were white people."

Hawks versus Leafs circa 1954

Now, people will have an opportunity to see how Sasakamoose did in the big league.

Thursday, at Saskatoon's Roxy Theatre, Sasakamoose and the Blackhawks will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in a replay of a game originally contested in 1954 . It's the only known NHL appearance of Fred Sasakamoose captured on film.

The event was all made possible by the hard work of Fred's son Neil Sasakamoose.

He made history in 1954 as the first Indigenous player in the NHL. Now 65 years later Saskatchewan's Fred Sasakamoose will see himself play for the first time. His only filmed game, that was thought to be lost, will be screened at the Roxy Theatre tonight (Thursday) Fred and his son Neil spoke with Saskatoon Morning's Leisha Grebinski about the significance of that game and the film. 12:44

Neil first learned decades ago that one of his dad's games had been captured on film.

"Dad was part of the NHL diversity task force in the 90s," Neil told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

"They sent him a video cassette...I watched a bit of it and I was going geez that's a hockey game, that's a black and white silent hockey game, old CBC footage from Hockey Night in Canada…I don't think my dad watched it because you had to have a VCR."

Neil Sasakamoose has been working for about 10 years now to locate film of his father playing in the NHL. That footage has been located and will be screened tonight in Saskatoon. (CBC)

Lost game film

That precious tape vanished, but Neil's memory of its existence lived on. About ten years ago, he began searching for that game film, so people could again see his dad play.

"I would phone people like Chico Resch [Moose Jaw-born NHL goaltender from 1973 to 1987] … to get a contact into the NHL. I phoned the NHL and then finally got the right person. In December, a guy phoned me from the NHL office in New York City and he said we will look for the tape."

The league found it stored safely at the Library and Archives Canada. Given its historical importance, the archive was reluctant to let it out of its protective grasp.

"They made a bunch of conditions I can't reproduce it I can't sell it. They can't make any money off of it and I have to control it and it's within my protection," said Neil.

Labour of love 

The Sasakamoose home is humble. Neil said his dad never really talked about his days as a professional hockey player. When Neil finally got his hands on the game footage, he began working to edit and package the game so that it could be viewed by a larger audience.

It's going to hit me hard.- Fred Sasakamoose 

Fred Sasakamoose, now 85, will be part of Thursday's audience. He said he hopes it serves as inspiration for other young Indigenous athletes trying to reach the highest levels of sport. And yet, it's all a little bitter sweet.

"You know the memories will hit me, it's going to hit me hard," Fred said. "All I wanted to do was to go home. That's all I wanted. I didn't want to play hockey."

Thursday's screening in Saskatoon will not be silent. Play-by-play announcer Clarence Iron has added his voice to the game. Iron himself made hockey history recently, calling the first ever NHL game broadcast in Cree.

with files from Saskatoon Morning