The Saskatoon Blades are throwing their support behind a new hockey academy for Indigenous youth.
The team presented members of the Indigenous Sports Academy Eagles with a cheque for $5,000 on Thursday and Blades captain Aidan De La Gorgendiere gave some Eagles players a tour of the Western Hockey League club’s facility at SaskTel Centre.
The Saskatoon-based ISA opened its doors this fall with a goal of providing Indigenous youth an opportunity to pursue their education while playing hockey.
“(We’re) trying to get the academy off the ground and any kind of support from the corporate community or other community groups, it’s huge to help offset some of those initial costs of building a program,” ISA founding director Courage Bear said.
The money will help cover day-to-day expenses for the fledgling academy.
“Anything from getting support for tutoring to helping support the on-ice product…to getting physio people coming in. There’s all kinds of costs from ice rental to buses to meals on the road,” Bear said.
It’s not a one-off donation, either. The Blades are hoping their initial contribution is just the start of a long and productive partnership.
“We decided for this season this is where we would start and we want to continue this. Hopefully we can keep growing it and keep making sure that we have Indigenous hockey players playing at the Sports Academy each year, but also growing the academy,” Blades associate general manager Steve Hildebrand said.
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In its first season the ISA is dedicated to icing one team, the U18 AA Eagles. However there’s hope that it will be able to expand in the future, adding more teams and introducing a female program.
The dream is to eventually see one or more players from the academy move on to the WHL or post-secondary hockey.
“That would be fantastic and I think that’s the goal of these young athletes here is they want to play in the Western Hockey League and hopefully one day they can step onto the ice here at SaskTel Centre,” Hildebrand said.
The Eagles inaugural on-ice leadership group is headed up by captain Amos Kejick from Shoal Lake First Nation in Ontario. The three alternate captains are from three different Saskatchewan First Nations.
“A lot of us come from different provinces and coming to this academy, it’s pretty good. It’s a first-year thing, pretty excited how they invited us out to be on this team,” said forward Deegan Wapass, who hails from Big River FN.
The biggest treat of the day for the players was a guided tour of the Blades locker room and training facility led by De La Gorgendiere. Having the Blades in their corner as they pursue their own hockey dreams means a lot.
“Just feels great to have a big name support our team, especially as the first of our kind,” said forward Sage Roberts, who is a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.
The Eagles’ next game is Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Canlan Ice Sports Agriplace against the NorthEast U18 AA Hockey Club.