Tributes poured in from around the hockey world Wednesday for Fred Sasakamoose, a man considered to be a pioneer for the game in the wake of his death Tuesday from COVID-19.
He was 86.
“I just want to thank everyone for everything you’ve done,” stated Fred’s son Neil in a Facebook video where he also announced his father’s death.
Many people took to social media to express their condolences.
NHL teams, former players and politicians all expressed their grief for one of the first Indigenous players in the National Hockey League.
Steve Hogel is the former Saskatoon Blades president said he was a friend of Sasakamoose.
Hogel and Sasakamoose were together for numerous First Nations nights at Blades hockey games along with other events.
He says Sasakamoose left a lasting impact on whoever interacted with him.
“Wherever I went with him or I was having a coffee with him, people would come up and talk to him and you just had to love the way he rolled and he always put others first and even though he had lived this legendary life and created such an amazing history,” Hogel told APTN News in a Zoom interview.
“He was always about looking forward and thinking about that younger generation and taking care of the kids. So he sets a wonderful example for us and will forever more.”
The Chicago Blackhawks called Sasakamoose “a luminary in the hockey world” in a Twitter post Wednesday.
Today we lost a luminary in the hockey world with the passing of Fred Sasakamoose.
Fred inspired many across the sport and North America after becoming one of the first Indigenous-born athletes to play in the NHL when he played 11 games with the Blackhawks in the 1953-54 season. pic.twitter.com/SiTmcXKQty
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) November 25, 2020
Jordan Tootoo, the first Inuk man to play in the National Hockey League also took to Twitter saying that Sasakamoose “paved the way and allowed us to believe in our dreams.”
Today we are sadden to hear the passing of @FredSasakamoose. You will be greatly missed by our indigenous communities. You have paved the way and allowed us to believe in our dreams. #warrior #leader #Inspiration #nativepride pic.twitter.com/B7pvNFHhCC
— Jordin Tootoo (@Jtootoo22) November 25, 2020
Sasakamoose was a residential school survivor who grew up in Ahtakakoop Cree Nation in central Saskatchewan.
He made his NHL debut Nov. 20, 1953 against the Boston Bruins as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
After hockey, he started a national hockey championship to allow Indigenous hockey athletes to showcase their talents.
He also became a band councillor of his home Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, serving many years and was also chief as well.
In 2017, Sasakamoose was invested into the Order of Canada, an honor that recognizes Canadian citizens for outstanding achievement, dedication to community or service to the nation.
“He believed in his culture, his language, his people. He believed in us getting along with non-native people, racists around the world. He believed in a lot of good qualities of what we should be striving for,” added Neil in the Facebook video.
He inspired many Indigenous hockey players after him such as Manitoba’s Reggie Leach among others.