Thursday , January 21 2021

Fred Sasakamus: Indigenous NHL rider dies at 86 after Covid-19 battle



“This virus only damaged Covid’s lungs, he just couldn’t react, and his body couldn’t hold on,” Neil said in a video from Sasakamus.

Sasakamus played 11 games for the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1953-54 season, according to the NHL website. He is believed to be the first indigenous player in league history, although the NHL tells CNN that it is impossible to determine.

An outpouring of respect came through the NHL following the news of Sasakamus’ death.

“That lasting impact on his legacy will forever be celebrated and will continue to bring people together for generations to come,” the Black Chicago Hawks said on its website. “The Chicago Blackhawks extend their deepest condolences to the entire Sasakamus family, which includes his wife Loretta, four children and more than 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Craig Conroy # 22 from the flames of Calgary and Alexei Zamnov # 13 from the Chicago Blackhawks pose for the ceremonial person to be kicked out of Fred Sasakamus at the United Center on October 19, 2002.

NHL commissioner Gary Batman said in a statement that Sasakamus was the first Cree player to appear in an NHL game at the age of 19. Said Batman.

“The story of Sasakamus’s turning point in the NHL’s 11 games against the Chicago Black Hawks in 1953-54 was the culmination of a longstanding commitment to overcoming sleep-related troubles and a focal point in which he focused on helping others. “They are fulfilling their dreams,” Batman said.

Brian Trotier, also of Indigenous heritage and a center for celebrity hockey, called Sasakamus a “pioneer, someone who looked at the blood of the first Nation to break through the barriers,” according to the NHL website.

“He did not realize how inspiring he is, what makes him a modest man, who, to me, looks like Jeanne Belivo and Gordy Howe and all the guys we consider so tall,” Trotier said.

Fred Sasakamus reacts when he is given a check for Johnoni's team and Johnny Jets hockey during a ceremony he celebrated at the United Center on October 19, 2002 in Chicago, Illinois.

Reggie Leach, who played for the Boston Bruins, California Golden Seals, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, said he did not know about Sasakamus until he was 16 years old. He is proud to be a First Nation legacy when he learns of Sasakamus, according to the NHL website.

“He was one of the players we wanted to be like him and play in the National Hockey League,” Leach said. “He achieved his goal and it was a great feat at the time in the 1950s, to be the First Nation and play in the NHL. If you remember, it’s amazing what he had to go through and what he went through going into “housing school and accomplishing what it did. It’s just amazing.”

Housing schools “were part of a government-sponsored, religious education system designed to assimilate the country’s indigenous children. Schools, which began in the 1880s and closed in 1996, were full of abuse,” according to the NHL.

The Blackhawks honored Sasakamus in 2002 and Edmonton Oils did the same in 2014 as part of their celebration of the hockey of the first nations, the NHL said.

Sasakamus was inducted into the Saskatchewan Hall of Fame in 2007, according to the NHL.

The father was in a good mood a few hours before his death

Neil talked to his father on the phone just hours before he passed out and said he looked in a good mood and was not afraid of what might come.

“I am not scared, I am ready to go, if I have to go, I will go,” Neil recalled in a statement from his father.

“You know what, Dad? If you’re tired, you go. You go and don’t worry about us here. You go. If you get tired and you fight and your body fights, go ahead and go,” Neil told his father.

Neil said his mother Loretta – his father’s 65-year-old partner – is currently under blockade, as are Neil’s sisters. Prior to his death, Sasakamus lived in the Akhatkapi Kri Nation Reserve in Saskatchewan.

Sasakamus has an autobiography scheduled to appear in the spring of 2021, entitled “Call Me an Indian: From the Trauma of a Homeschool to Becoming a Native First NHL Player.”


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