To say it’s been an unusual NHL season would be the king of understatements.
In normal times, the month of August signifies players ramping up their workouts and getting ready for training camp. Saying that, everyone knows these aren’t exactly normal times as the NHL strangely enough kicked off on August 1. the 2020 NHL playoffs.
During normal times, playoffs begin in mid April, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that is certainly not the case. Back on March 12, the league suspended play and it wasn’t decided until months later that there would in fact be playoffs, only with a different kind of twist. Instead of the usual format of 16 teams participating, this year’s setup had 24 of the 31 teams competing with Eastern Conference series being played at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena and Western Conference series at Edmonton’s Rogers Place.
When August 1st rolled around, and playoffs were set to begin, there were six talented Indigenous players and an indigenous coach who were among those set to compete with their respective teams for the Stanley Cup.
Coach Craig Berube, who is Cree made his mark last year by taking in November 2018, a struggling St. Louis Blues team and leading them to the 2019 Stanley Cup.
Among the talented indigenous players competing for the Cup are such prominent names such as Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, Vegas Golden Knights Zach Whitecloud, Vancouver Canucks agitator Michael Ferland, Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear and Florida Panthers defenceman Brady Keeper.
“Personally, it’s unbelievable to see it,” Anthony Keeper, said about watching his son play.
“I can’t even rate it. I’m just trying to control my nerves. I can’t even sit down here and watch the game. I’m pacing back and forth, going inside and outside.”
Brady Keeper, who is from Cross Lake Manitoba, actually played this season in the American Hockey League’s Springfield Thunderbirds where he scored six goals and 18 points with 108 penalty minutes. It wasn’t until Game 2 of the Panthers qualifiers playoff series against the New York Islanders that Keeper, made his post season debut.
“The chief went on the radio to let the people know what the plan was. Some of the offices closed before 11 a.m. this morning to watch the game and reopen after lunch,” Anthony Keeper said. “It’s a special day, I guess, for everybody around here.”
Florida ended up losing Game 2 by a 4-2 score and eventually were eliminated in four games of a best three out of five series.
Meanwhile currently thriving in post season play has been Vegas Golden Knights Zach Whitecloud, who in early August celebrated his first ever NHL goal while registering a team high five hits in his team’s 6-4 playoff round-robin win against the defending Stanley Cup champions St. Louis Blues.
“It’s definitely fun to contribute, and obviously at a time like that (third period, playoffs) but at the end of the day, you score your first one and you’ve just got to get back to work right away,” Whitecloud said. Whitecloud, who is the pride and joy of Dakota Sioux Nation went on to add,
“Yeah, it’s definitely exciting, and enjoy the moment, but get back to work right away.”
During this playoff run, he has played in eight games and has scored a goal and an assist along with seven shots on goal. The Golden Knights will be counting on him as they are about to face a real test during semi- finals action against the Vancouver Canucks.
Another talented aboriginal defenceman who got some playoff experience was 23 -year-old rookie Ethan Bear. Selected in the fifth round, 124th overall in the 2015 draft by Edmonton, Bear, was raised on the Ochapowace Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Bear had a solid rookie season which saw him score five goals and 21 points in 71 games. In his first taste of Stanley Cup playoff action, Bear played in all four games and registered three shots on goal and a minus four rating in a playoff loss against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Bearsy is always looking to learn. Always looking to find ways to make his game better,” Bear’s defence partner Darnell Nurse said. “That’s what made him so good this year.”
Coming off another strong regular season was Washington Capitals star forward T.J. Oshie who in 69 games played scored 25 goals and 49 points. Looking for his second Stanley Cup, Oshie this spring had three goals but was a minus seven in the Capitals quarter-finals playoff series loss against the New York Islanders. Oshie, who is Ojibwe enjoyed his greatest playoff moment in 2018 when he scored eight goals and 21 points in making history by helping the Capitals win the Stanley Cup.
The Vancouver Canucks suffered a huge blow in the playoffs qualifier round when agitating forward Michael Ferland was injured and couldn’t continue after a Game 2 injury against the Minnesota Wild. This 27-year-old Cree forward played in 14 regular season games with the Canucks where he scored a goal and five points. Unfortunately for Canucks fans, Ferland went home after the injury and will not be back.
Perhaps the most popular Indigenous player in today’s game is Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price. Coming off a strong season which saw Price post 27 wins along with a nifty 2.79 G.A.A., he proved to be money in the playoffs.
This 33- year-old who is member of Ulkatcho First Nation in British Columbia, had two playoff shutouts, but couldn’t prevent a heartbreaking quarterfinals playoff Game 6 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers. Price was a big reason why the Habs defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifiers before losing to the Flyers. In 10 playoff starts this year, Price had a 5-5 record with a 1.78 G.A.A. and a .936 save percentage along with the two shutouts.
“It’s not easy to beat Price,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said.
Looking for his second straight Stanley Cup was St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube who is affectionately known as ‘Chief.’ This former NHL enforcer from Calahoo Alberta, was hired as the Blues coach in November 2018, and has never looked back. With the Chief behind the bench, St. Louis enjoyed last year an 11game winning streak in both January and February as they went on last spring to defeat the Boston Bruins in the finals and win the franchise first Stanley Cup.
“I’m so happy for the city and the fans here. They deserve it,” Berube said at the time. “But more than anything I’m so happy for our players because of how hard they’ve played, the character and leadership coming through, winning that cup.”
There will be no repeat for Berube as the defending Stanley Cup champions were recently ousted in their quarter finals against the Vancouver Canucks.
You can bet that with Ferland injured and with all these other players eliminated from Stanley Cup competition, that Indigenous hockey fans will be rooting for Whitecloud in hopes that he can become the aboriginal player to win the Stanley Cup.