With the recent celebration of National Aboriginal Day, it’s only fitting to look back at the accomplishments and heroics of such talented Indigenous athletes as former NHL star Reggie Leach.
Terrorizing the NHL during the 1970’s and 80’s, this right winger from Riverton Manitoba was drafted third overall in 1970 by the Boston Bruins. In his storied career he went on to play 934 games where he scored 381 goals and 666 points in a 13- year career with the Bruins, California Golden Seals, Philadelphia Flyers and the Detroit Red Wings.
Enjoying his most productive years with the Flyers, Leach, who went by the nickname “The Riverton Rifle” and “Chief,” achieved the ultimate goal when he won the Stanley Cup in 1972 and again in ’75 when that spring he scored eight goals and 10 points in playing a pivotal role.
A member of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, Leach received the ultimate thrill when back on June 27tth 2019, Her Excellence the Right Honorable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, announced the 83 new appointees to the Order of Canada, which included Leach.
“This is a very, very great honor,” he said at the time. “Wow! That’s what I said when I was notified. I had been appointed to the Order of Canada. To me it was surprising; I know someone had put my name forward a while back, but didn’t expect anything to come of it.”
During his hockey career with Philadelphia, Leach was a fixture on what was dubbed the L-C-B line which features Leach, Hockey Hall of Famer and current Order of Canada fellow member Bobby Clarke and another Hockey Hall of Famer in Bill Barber.
Leach, who is Ojibwe, had in 1975/76 a breakout season with the Flyers when he led the league with 61 goals during a 91- point season. That spring, this power forward made history when he became only the fifth player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy on the NHL finals losing team.
A few months later, Leach represented his country as he played on the 1976 Team Canada squad which won gold.
Following his playing days, Leach proved to be a great role model. Along with organizing and running hockey camps, he also gave his time to talking and encouraging the Indigenous youth. With the youth, Leach takes a lot of pride in giving back by talking about his past mistakes, and trying to use it as a teaching tool in giving advice.
“Everyone thinks that hockey has been the most important thing in my life, but it is a very small part of my life,” Leach said.
“I am more proud of what I did after hockey than any of my hockey-playing days. I believe everyone makes mistakes and bad choices- and I made a lot of them when I was in my 20’s and 30’s-but I learned from my mistakes and moved on.”\Showing tremendous pride towards his First Nations heritage Leach also stated,
“My life today has been working with and talking to kids in First Nations communities, and all kids everywhere across the country. I wrote a book a few years ago detailing the mistakes I have made; I actually wrote it for my grandkids and all kids who are struggling in life.”
It’s been quite the ride for Leach, who also in 2019 was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame which came three years after receiving the Order of Manitoba.
“I would like to do more speaking to and helping youth,” Leach said. “I’m 69 years old, enjoy like, love to travel and don’t like idle time on my hands.”
Reflecting on the honor of being among those appointed for Order of Canada, Leach admits to sometimes waking up in morning still in disbelief.
“My family wants to be there at the Order of Canada ceremony,” Leach said. “You know, sometimes I wake up in the morning and I think, ‘is this really happening to me?’ It is nice to be recognized for your efforts to help others.”