Skip to main content

Miles Morrisseau
Special to Indian Country Today

The National Hockey League playoffs are underway and four Indigenous players and one Indigenous coach all have a chance to carry Lord Stanley’s Cup home.

Round one features a clash between one of the NHL's most decorated Indigenous and U.S.-born players – T.J. Oshie, whose Washington Capitals face off against the Florida Panthers and rising defensive talent Brandon Montour.

Behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues is the man they called “Chief” for his 17 years as a bruising NHL enforcer – Craig Berube, who will skipper his team against the Minnesota Wild and Connor Dewar, who was added to the Wild roster for the playoff run.

And Ethan Bear is in the hunt with the Carolina Hurricanes, who are playing the Boston Bruins.

That’s right, a Bear is taking on the Bruins – it’s Indigenous hockey in the 2022 NHL playoffs.

SUPPORT INDIGENOUS JOURNALISM. CONTRIBUTE TODAY.

Hockey analyst John Chabot, Algonquin-Kitigan Zibi from Canada, said the new generation of Indigenous hockey players is fast and skilled. Chabot spent nine years in the NHL, with the last four as a crowd favorite with the Detroit Red Wings, and is an advocate for sports and hockey in under-served and remote Indigenous communities with his First Assist an Indigenous charitable organization.

Related:
Indigenous women stand out in gold medal hockey game
Breaking barriers: NHL's 1st First Nations scout
Indigenous focus hits the ice in pro hockey

“These young guys here, the biggest thing I find between their generation and my generation of Indigenous players is a skill level,” Chabot told Indian Country Today. “In my day, a lot of the Indigenous guys were tough guys whose skill wasn't bad, but they were there a lot of the time to play the hard game.”

The first round the NHL playoffs are set to conclude on May 15, with the Stanley Cup finals set to be played in June.

T.J. Oshie

Oshie, Ojibwe, was an integral part of the Capitals 2018 Stanley Cup championship team, the first and only win for the Washington franchise. Chabot calls him “a fantastic hockey player.”

He first emerged onto the national sports horizon as a shootout specialist leading Team USA over Team Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Oshie began his NHL career as part of an offensively talented St. Louis Blues team that always had the right pieces in place but could never win it all. His trade to the Capitals in 2015 saw him join a team led by Russian goal-scoring phenom Alexander Ovechkin that again was often favored to win the Cup but had not delivered on the promise.

Two years later, Oshie was hoisting his and the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

Brandon Montour

Montour is Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River and began his career in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him in the second round in 2014, and later traded him to the Buffalo Sabres.

His first full season with the Florida Panthers has been a breakout season for the defenseman, scoring 11 goals and 27 assists to go along with a stellar +15 and 48 minutes of penalty time.

Montour was recognized this season with the Bryan Trottier Most Valuable Indigenous Hockey Player award which is sponsored by APTN. The network has broadcast six games this season in the Plains Cree language.

Florida Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour, Mohawk, right, celebrates after scoring in overtime of the team's NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, on April 23, 2022, in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers won 3-2. They are in the Stanley Cup 2022 playoffs. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Chabot, who is an analyst on the APTN hockey broadcasting team, said Montour has a future in the game.

“Brandon is the new generation of players that skates extremely well and has a lot of skill,” he said. “He fits into the Florida system extremely well, and in regards to visibility, I mean, this is the type of player that the kids are going to see for a while.”

The Panthers and Capitals are evenly matched in the hotly contested Eastern Division. Florida finished at the top of the league during the regular season and Washington remains a talented team with tons of playoff and championship experience led by team captain Ovechkin, who shows little sign of slowing down after putting up another 50-goal season.

Ethan Bear

Bear, Cree, spent three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes.

When the Oilers were bounced early in the playoffs last year, Bear began to receive racist comments online. In a video posted to the Edmonton Oilers official social media, he stated, “I'm here to stand up to this behaviour... I'm proud of where I come from. I'm proud to be from Ochapowace First Nation. I'm not just doing this for myself. I'm doing this for all people of colour and for the next generation.”

Chabot calls the situation “unfortunate” but says that Bear has found a better place to develop his talents.

Carolina Hurricanes' Ethan Bear, Cree, left, is shown in action during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, on Feb. 21, 2022, in Philadelphia. The Hurricanes have made the Stanley Cup playoffs for 2022. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

“He got to leave a place like Edmonton and go to a place that really fits his style of hockey,” he said. “Edmonton was looking for something different – bigger, heavier guys – and Ethan is a skater, and they had a couple other guys that kind of fit that bill.”

The Hurricanes finished at the top of the Metropolitan division and face off against the Bruins of Boston, who squeaked into the playoffs as a wild card.

Craig Berube

Berube, Cree from Calihoo, Alberta, had a long NHL career where he suited up and often dropped the gloves for the Philadelphia Flyers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Calgary Flames, the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders.

In 2006, he began his professional hockey coaching career in the American Hockey League and in 2013 he made it to big-league coaching with the Philadelphia Flyers.

St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube, Cree, carries the Stanley Cup after the Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final on June 12, 2019, in Boston. Berube and the Blues are back in the playoffs for 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Berube joined the St. Louis Blues organization as assistant coach in 2016. He was handed the reins when head coach Mike Yeo was fired after a losing start to the 2018 season. Berube coached the Blues to their first Stanley Cup since 1970.

“He was an honest player and he played the game the way he had to play to get to the level he did, and he's an honest coach and players respond to that,” Chabot said.

The Blues are taking on the Minnesota Wild, who have added Connor Dewar to their playoff roster.

Minnesota Wild's Connor Dewar, Métis, plays against the Boston Bruins during the third period of an NHL hockey game on Jan. 6, 2022, in Boston. Dewar is making his debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Connor Dewar

Dewar, who is Métis from The Pas, Manitoba, might make his NHL debut during the playoffs.

“He's a first-year guy, and I don’t know how much he's in the lineup,” Chabot said. “[Wild general manager] Billy Guerin … loves the kid. He said he had done the work necessary to become an NHL player, and he brings grit and gets involved.”

Indian Country Today - bridge logo

Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 today to help Indian Country Today carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.