One of the first Indigenous NHLers, Frederick “Fred” Sasakamoose, has passed away.
He died on Tuesday afternoon at the age of 86 following a battle with the novel coronavirus, according to family.
As part of his many contributions to the sport of hockey, he broke the barrier for generations of First Nations players when he made it into the NHL. Sakamoose played 11 games with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1953-54 season.
“(He) couldn’t fit in with the big wigs, couldn’t fit in with all the big owners of things and big companies. Big corporations. That’s not who he was,” Fred’s son Neil Sasakamoose said via a Facebook posting.
“He was a grassroots guy … He wasn’t a suit and tie. He didn’t belong there. He knew where you belonged. He belonged with his people on the reserve. He belonged with local people in small towns.”
Following his time in Chicago, Sasakamoose returned home to the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation in Saskatchewan to help give others the same opportunities he received. With no athletic equipment, events or facilities in the area, he worked extensively to build and develop minor hockey and other sports in the community.
In 1962, Sasakamoose focused his efforts on hockey as one of the founding members of the Northern Indian Hockey League. His promotion of the game helped spur the construction of arenas in communities in northern Saskatchewan.
“He said he never believed in racism. He never believed in hate. He believed in listening to what professionals have to say. He had some good, good strengths about that old guy. He believed in his culture, his language, his people, he believed in us getting along with non-native people, races around the world,” Neil said.
“He believed in a lot of good qualities of what we should be striving for.”
More recently, he assisted with the All Nations Hockey School in Saskatoon before establishing the Fred Sasakamoose All Star Hockey Week; a hockey camp that focuses on diversity and integration in addition to hockey skills.
Sasakamoose has been inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame, Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame, Meadow Lake Wall of Fame, FSIN Circle of Honour and the Canadian Native Hockey Hall of Fame.
Additionally, he was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2017.
Former Canadian NHLer Theoren Fleury and Brigette Lacquette, who played on the national women’s team, are among member of the hockey community who reacted to Sasakamoose’s passing on social media.