It’s possible (if not probable) that when the Hockey Hall of Fame proclaims a new class of inductees on Tuesday of next week, Buddy Maracle will be among them. Maracle, you’ll maybe recall, was Mohawk, from Ayr, Ontario, and seems to have been the first Indigenous player to have skated in the NHL. His stint with the New York Rangers in 1931 was short (just 15 games), and he died in 1958, facts that would appear to argue against his recognition by an institution that favours prolonged NHL service and doesn’t, these days, tend toward posthumous choices. It’s the case, too, that while Maracle seems to have been a very good player, he wasn’t a great or generational talent. His claim, should it succeed, would be akin to Willie O’Ree’s: if Maracle were to be honoured, it would be as a hockey pioneer.
It could happen. A comprehensive nomination package did go to the Hall in Maracle’s name earlier this year (brief disclosure: I contributed a supporting letter). And Maracle’s story has been gaining more and more attention across the hockey world and beyond. If it wasn’t exactly a secret before 2017, it was fairly obscure and threadbare.
That started to change when Fred Sasakamoose was named a member of the Order of Canada as that year ended. Deserving as that vice-regal acknowledgment was (and by no fault of Sasakamoose’s), the messaging that went along with it was insistently erroneous as institutions that should have known better — looking at you, Rideau Hall and the NHL — blithely identified Sasakamoose as having blazed a trail that, in fact, Maracle had already blazed two decades earlier.
As a matter of history, the oversight wasn’t a good look for the NHL. The league might have attended to their lapse quickly and unobtrusively — maybe as part of the Hockey Is For Everyone initiative they launched in February of 2018 to promote diversity and inclusion in the game.
If nothing else, Maracle’s story is a fascinating one that highlights just how hard it was for an Indigenous athlete to make his way to the top of his sport in the 1920s and ’30s. Instead, the league continued to ignore Maracle. Over at their editorial department, a February, 2018 profile of Fred Sasakamoose on NHL.com re-upped the notion that the distinguished former Chicago Black Hawk is “the NHL’s first Indigenous player.” I guess that’s still the official line: more than a year later, the story hasn’t been corrected.
The fact that at least four other Indigenous players would seem to have preceded Sasakamoose onto NHL ice (Maracle, Joe Benoit, Jimmy Jamieson, Johnny Harms) isn’t any slight on him or the remarkable things that he’s achieved in his life. It’s possible that the NHL believes that by highlighting — or even acknowledging? — Maracle’s story they might discomfit or embarrass Sasakamoose, and that’s why they’ve kept quiet.
If that’s the case, I don’t think it really makes sense. Facts are facts and flouting them does no-one any good. Media mentions of Fred Sasakamoose don’t always, now, automatically identify him as the first Indigenous NHLer. But it’s also true that the word on Maracle isn’t widespread, and keeps not showing up in newspapers and magazines and online. Assuming that the NHL knows and is assiduously interested in being true to its own history, many in the media do still take the league’s lead in ignoring Buddy Maracle.
Exhibit A: in March, when the NHL’s Canadian media partners from Sportsnet took their Hometown Hockey show on the road to Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, Maracle was left, unaccountable, out of the picture. It was a remarkable day and an historic one: the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s broadcast in Plains Cree of the game between the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes marked the first time that an NHL game went to air in an Indigenous language.
And on an occasion so fully focussed on the future, present, and past of Indigenous hockey, the man who blazed such a crucial trail was entirely, inexplicably absent. Buddy Maracle didn’t rate so much a mention during Hometown Hockey’s extensive coverage that day.
It may be that when the Hockey Hall announces its 2019 class on Tuesday we’ll learn that Buddy Maracle’s time has come, along with — who else’s? Maybe will Reggie Leach, the first Indigenous superstar, finally get his due? Or Rick Middleton? I might bet on Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards making the cut, if I were betting. And, no question: Hayley Wickenheiser. Is this the year Andy Moog gets the call, or Tom Barrasso? What about Seth Martin, J.C. Tremblay, Claude Provost, Lorne Chabot? And then, of course, there’s the perennial clamour for Paul Henderson.
It’s worth saying that the Hockey Hall of Fame is a sovereign state, independent of the NHL, and that it (in theory) thinks and acts for itself, makes its own choices, follows its own stars. I’m not suggesting that if Maracle and his story don’t break through next week it should be seen in a nefarious light. What it will mean is exactly this: his nomination didn’t get enough votes.
Whatever happens, the Hall has quietly shifted its narrative in the past year. Pre-2018, if you’d steered your way over to the Hall’s extensive online biographical dictionary of all-time NHLers, here’s what you would have read for Fred Sasakamoose:
and Buddy Maracle:
I can’t say just when the change was made, but it’s been several months now since the Hockey Hall of Fame adopted a new line and started informing visitors on their respective player pages (Sasakamoose’s here and Maracle’s here) that while “Fred Sasakamoose is among the first Indigenous people to appear in an NHL game,” “Henry Elmer ‘Buddy’ Maracle holds the distinction of being the first Indigenous person to appear in an NHL game.” So that’s some kind of progress.
Update, October, 2020: The Hall of Fame has now done away entirely with the player biographies that used to appear on the site. Not sure when that excising happened, exactly, but if you click on those links above they’ll show you statistics only.
Stick Tap: Hayley Wickenheiser announced her hockey retirement today at the age of 38. A five-time Olympic medallist (four golds and a silver), the Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, native is the all-time leading scorer in Canadian women’s hockey. CBC has an overview of her outstanding opening career here. As Wickenheiser said today in bidding her farewell, she’s focussed now on the one that comes next, which has her heading to medical school.
(Top Image: Dave Holland, 2014, Simon Fraser University Communications)
“Please join me in celebrating 41 years of not giving a damn about the Winter Olympics,” tweeted writer Gary Shteyngart this week.
Or … maybe not. Alex Ovechkin, for one, was watching his TV on Friday as Russia’s games officially opened while also (if his punctuation is any guide) leaping around the room as he tweeted:
Сейчас смотрю открытие Олимпиады,у меня нет слов!!!спасибо за этот праздник!!!я горд за свою страну!!!!@Sochi2014*
Ryan Kennedy from The Hockey News heard Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller talking about the MVP award he won at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. “It’s not like I can stack it behind me in net,” Miller was saying. “It won’t deflect pucks.”
Just as he did in those Olympics, Sidney Crosby scored a great goal on Miller this week, in Pittsburgh’s game against Buffalo. Fellow Penguin James Neal: “It took my breath away, yeah.”
Another famous American goalie was talking about Canada’s team this week: Jim Craig from the golden 1980 team. “I think Marty St. Louis should have been given the opportunity to represent his country,” Craig opined. “He is a winner, leader and class act.”
That was before the announcement, on Wednesday, from @HockeyCanada:
Steven Stamkos ne jouera pas pour #EquipeCanada à #Sochi2014. Un remplaçant sera nommé au cours des prochains jours.
“It was a little shocking,” Stamkos said of learning that his leg hasn’t healed enough for him to play.
The inimitable Dave Bidini posted a first dispatch as Hockey Canada’s commentator on the Olympic tournament, which he’ll be contributing from … in front of his TV, at home in Toronto. “Last Olympics,” he wrote this week, “my kids heard their grandfather swear for the first time.”
Reports of Canucks coach John Tortorella’s return this week from 15 days of suspension included the words “I apologize” and “my stupidity” and “very embarrassing” and “the nonsense I caused.” Time to move on, Tortorella told reporters. “I’m glad I’m back with our guys,” he said. “I’m looking forward to trying to grow more as a coach with them. More importantly, get our team growing together again to be a competitive team.”
Speculation on who would replace Stamkos hovered over Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, Martin St. Louis, and Taylor Hall.
Henrik Sedin decided he’d have to miss the Olympics; Sweden shuddered.
Stephen J. Harper’s publisher announced their next big hockey project: in the fall of 2015, Simon & Schuster Canada will publish the not-yet-titled memoir that Tie Domi is writing with Sportsnet reporter Jim Lang. “An inspiring story of family, camaraderie, hard work, perseverance, plenty of hockey and hard knocks,” promised the press release.”
Publisher Kevin Hanson: “Tie Domi fought his way into the hearts of hockey fans and sustained a memorable career through leadership and grit, loyalty and humility.” Continue reading
“Happy holidays everybody!!!,” tweeted @AnzeKopitar this week, “#besttimeoftheyear”
In Ottawa, Governor-General David Johnston told CTV’s Powerplay what he thought of his next-door neighbour’s book, which is to say Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game: “I enjoyed it enormously.”
“God fortsättning!” offered the Rangers’ goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. “Hoppas ni haft en härlig jul och att ni får ett gott nytt år!”
New Jersey’s Jaromir Jagr scored his 13th goal of the season this week in a 5-4 win over Washington’s Capitals. It was the 694th of his career, too, which ties him with Mark Messier in seventh place on the list of all-time NHL goalscorers.
“He amazes me every night I come to the rink,” Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer said of Jagr, who’s 41. “I don’t have a lot more adjectives to describe him, but he’s a pleasure to work with.”
Don’t cry for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their injured, coach Randy Carlyle said this week, via James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail. According to Carlyle, 108 players are out of action at the moment, or fully 15 per cent. “There’s a lot of injuries taking place,” Carlyle said. “We’re not the only ones.”
“There aren’t enough adjectives in the vocabulary to keep describing Jaromir’s goals,” said a teammate, Rick Tocchet. That was in 1992, back when Jagr played for Pittsburgh.
Evgeni Nabokov was the Islanders’ goalie yesterday when they lost to the Devils. “It’s the same music all the time: Why don’t we win?” he said afterwards. Continue reading