Indigenous-owned pro hockey franchise could have backing with new study

TORONTO — Students in a sports marketing class at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) will conduct a study this semester to determine the feasibility of establishing an Indigenous-owned professional hockey squad.

The study will also help determine if it is plausible to have an all-Indigenous women’s club compete at international events.

The study is titled The Spirit Project. News of the project first surfaced last month at The Carnegie Initiative Summit in Toronto.

The Carnegie Initiative is named in honour of hockey trailblazer Herb Carnegie. The summit attracted 400 delegates. It was held to showcase efforts made to make the sport more inclusive and welcoming for all.

Students conducting the study will also benefit from numerous guest speakers this semester. Those speakers will include individuals that currently work for different sports franchises in various capacities, including building operations, ticketing and game-day operations.

First Nations leaders will also be consulted during the study to offer their input.

Ted Nolan, a former National Hockey League (NHL) player and coach, told Windspeaker that he believes the answer, at least whether a women’s Indigenous team can be formed, is a yes.

Nolan coached the Wiikwemkoong T-Birds women’s squad at the 2022 Fred Sasakamoose Chief Thunderstick National Hockey Championship last season. Since, he has explained his belief that an Indigenous women’s team as a counterpart would be more than able to hold its own and even win some matches against some other countries that traditionally participate in international events.

Nolan, a member of Garden River First Nation in northern Ontario, played eight seasons of pro hockey. He appeared in a total of 78 NHL contests, 60 with the Detroit Red Wings and 18 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nolan also coached with three NHL franchises. He had stints with the Hartford Whalers, Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. He won the Jack Adams Award for being the NHL’s Coach of the Year for his efforts with the Sabres during the 1996-97 season.
Nolan is now currently the president of 3Nolans with his sons Brandon and Jordan, a pair of players who also made it to the NHL. The Nolans offer skills development camps for First Nation youth across the country.

Nolan said he has heard numerous times how wonderful it would be to have an elite Indigenous hockey squad compete internationally. Within the findings of the study, there is stronger hope that the opportunity can become a reality.

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