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Fred Sasakmoose “Chief Thunderstick” National Hockey Championship draws Indigenous talent from across Canada

Forty hockey teams from every corner of the country are in Saskatoon. Once again competing in the Fred Sasakamoose “Chief Thunderstick” National Hockey Championship.

As the legend of the four-day tournament continues to grow, the event has come to symbolize major pride for its many competitors.

“This one is about bragging rights. It’s everybody’s pride, everybody’s community,” Six Nations Ironmen forward Ryan Davis said prior to taking the ice Sunday.

“We’re no different.”

For organizer Neil Sasakamoose, he’s most proud of bringing hundreds of athletes and their fans to Saskatoon for four days of intense competition, and memories to last a lifetime, all in honour of his father, the late Fred Sasakamoose — one of the first Indigenous men to play in the National Hockey League (NHL).

“It’s all for my dad. My dad’s wish was not to get forgotten, so we keep his memory alive,” he said. “So people come from all over the place to play and compete, to meet each other, but lots of people come here to remember Fred.”

With this year being the sixth consecutive tournament, the popularity continues to increase. Neil feels he’s getting closer to accomplishing his father’s wishes each spring.

“An Indigenous hockey team in the Olympics representing First Nations people. That was always his dream,” Neil said.

Davis was one of the many hockey players who drove dozens of hours, took the bus or flew from remote parts of the country to be in Saskatoon.

Being from Six Nation, near Brantford, Ont., he was able to fly to Saskatoon. Many other competitors drove up to 40 hours to be in Saskatoon for the long weekend.

While the competition on the ice is intense, there’s no place he’d rather be this weekend.

“It’s the way of our people, gathering like this. Everybody’s always pulling for everybody and you never like to see our own people fighting with each other,” he said.

“So getting all the guys and the girls and everyone together is a big deal for our people.”

With Sunday’s championship game bringing the “Chief Thunderstick” tournament to a close, the reach of the tournament continues to grow as the players hope to make an impression on the next generation of Indigenous athletes to grow the game further.

“It’s about those future generations and those kids coming up and have their dreams to make to the big leagues like I did when I was a kid,” Davis said.

“It’s all about community when you come to these tournaments.”

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