Spotlight on an unsung role in Canada’s Game
It was a mission three years in the making — so when Naim Cardinal finally got his hands on the rookie card of every Indigenous player to ever skate in the NHL, 70 in all, he snapped a photo and tweeted it out.
Since that tweet a week ago, his photo has generated more than a thousand likes and a conversation about the unsung role Indigenous athletes have played in building Canada’s game.
“People are seeing the players in my collection and going, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that guy is Indigenous and this guy was Indigenous,’ so this has created those kind of conversations,” said Cardinal, an Indigenous community engagement advisor at Norquest University.
Cardinal based his collection on the list curated by an online sports site called Native Hockey.
Included in his collection? Oilers goaltending great Grant Fuhr, who has Indigenous heritage, and T.J. Oshie, the current right-winger for the Washington Capitals, who is Ojibwe.
“Talking to my wife and dad, they made a good point,” Cardinal said, “that a lot of these players never got recognized for being an Indigenous person in the NHL during their careers, and people are really able to see that now.”
He hopes his collection helps give their careers and accomplishments the recognition they deserved.
“I think that’s what’s most important,” he said.
Cardinal, 36, started collecting when he was eight years old. A member of the Tallcree First Nation, he decided to focus on Indigenous players starting in 2014.
Not every player had a rookie card, and many who did weren’t easy to find. He scoured eBay, flea markets and card shops.
The hardest card was Ted Hodgson, who played four games for the Boston Bruins during the 1966-67 season. After two years of hunting, Cardinal eventually resorted to buying a set of postcards for the entire team online.
Hockey is hugely popular in the Indigenous community, Cardinal said, and he hopes his collection helps inspires kids who love the sport.
There are currently eight Indigenous players in the NHL, according to the list.