Brady Keeper received a roaring welcome after returning home to Pimicikamak Cree Nation on Wednesday morning.
He’s the first hockey player from the northern community to reach the NHL.
The community greeted the young hockey player with a parade, which led to a grand entrance, and a recognition ceremony at the Pimicikamak arena, where he spent time signing autographs for children. “It’s surreal have all these people, it’s crazy,” says Keeper. “I love coming back, like I said, it’s unbelievable.”
Pimicikamak Cree Nation is approximately 770 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Keeper signed a two-year entry level contract with the Florida Panthers on March 18, after his sophomore season with the University of Maine Black Bears.
The defenseman made his hockey debut on March 28 facing the Ottawa Senator, where he had several family and friends in the crowd cheering him on.
He had 12:40 of ice time.
On that night, members in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation put a 40 year old tradition of gathering for bingo on hold so they could tune in for the game.
His former coach was on hand in the community for the celebration.
“He’s inspiring a lot of kids, not just here, but a lot of First Nation kids all, not just in Manitoba,” says Joseph Blacksmith.
Blacksmith says this is a day that everyone in the community will remember. He recalls a time when he coached a young Brady in a minor hockey league for around two years, “He was a shy kid, but a hard worker.”
One thing is for sure, Keeper says he’ll always be proud of where he grew up and it doesn’t matter where you’re from – if you have a dream follow it.
“It just shows, if you put in the hard work and dedication that you can do anything you want.”