Detroit – There have been a lot of NHL players from First Nations people – and more on the way – and there are numerous fans.
But no game has ever been broadcast in an Indigenous language – until Sunday, when the Montreal-Carolina game will be called in the Plains Cree language on the SportsNet/Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) at 7 p.m.
Former Red Wings forward John Chabot (1987-91) – an Algonquin from the community of Kitigan Zibi – will be an analyst on the broadcast.
“For many people, it’ll be the first time they’ll totally, 100 percent, understand parts of the game they’ve never been able to,” Chabot said. “This is huge. It’s pretty cool that it is happening, and hopefully it’s a start and can grow into more.”
Chabot, 56, also played with Montreal and Pittsburgh in his NHL, and spent the final 10 seasons of his career playing in European leagues before returning and coaching junior hockey.
These days, Chabot travels northern Canada, coaching and teaching First Nations teenagers.
“I go to the kids and use hockey as a tool,” Chabot said. “I enjoy it. It’s what I want to do.”
Sunday’s game between the Canadiens and Hurricanes will be special for Montreal goaltender Carey Price and Carolina forward Micheal Ferland. They are First Nations players, and Ferland is the only Cree player in the NHL. Ferland recently credited former NHL forward Jordin Tootoo – who played 723 NHL games with four organizations, including the Red Wings – for Tootoo’s support when Ferland was originally drafted.
Tootoo was the NHL’s first Inuit player.
Chabot hopes Sunday’s game will serve as an inspiration to young people watching.
“You have two teams that are fighting for playoff spots, you have Price, who is one of the top goaltenders in the game, and the kid Ferland is having a great season, it couldn’t have worked out to be a better game for this to happen,” Chabot said.