"I said I came here 50 years ago as an Indian, and I'm going to leave this building as an Indian. I want to wear my buckskin jacket," Sasakamoose recalls. "They respected that. I walked in that stadium, and what a moment. I wanted it recognized, publicly, that I am an Indian as I walked to the middle of that ice."
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Born on this date, Christmas Day, in 1934, one of nine kids in his family, Fred Sasakamoose began playing in the Saskatoon Amateur Hockey Association for the cleverly named Duck Lake Ducks in 1948. He then graduated to the Moose Jaw Canucks of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League in 1950. Playing center, Sasakamoose acquitted himself quite well in his three seasons with Moose Jaw, averaging more than a point per game. He scored 41 points in 42 games in his first season of junior hockey and maintained his average with 35 points from 36 games in 1953 before cutting loose with 31 goals and 57 points in just 34 games in 1953-54.
His dominance earned him the WCJHL Most Valuable Player award and a contract with the Chicago Black Hawks of the NHL. He made his debut on February 27, 1954 at the age of 20 in a game at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, which made him the first full-blooded native North American player in NHL history. In all, Sasakamoose played 11 games with the Black Hawks through the remainder of the 1953-54 season, registering six penalty minutes but no points.
It must have been quite a culture shock for Sasakamoose playing in front of 13,500 people, for when the season concluded, he returned home to Sandy Lake reserve, Saskatchewan, population 200, and his parents 24 by 20 foot cabin.
He was unable to crack the Black Hawks lineup the following season, ending up being the final cut from the roster. He then spent with both the New Westminster Royals (21 games) and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens (22 games).
It was back west in 1955-56 with just a pair of games with the Calgary Stampeders before he quit to return home to be with his wife, taking a taxi 600 miles to do so!
He was back on the ice again for the 1956-57 season, this time finding a home with the Kamloops Chiefs of the Ontario Senior Hockey League, proving a popular attraction as a former NHLer and aboriginal player as well. His second season with the Chiefs would be particularly successful, as he would score 26 goals and 53 points in 51 games.
He sat out the following season only to return to the ice once more for the 1959-60 season, again with Kamloops, scoring 30 points in 20 games to end his professional playing days.
Sasakamoose has overcome his issues with alcohol, which certainly cut short is time in the NHL and has been dry since 1980, the same year he became chief if his band. He has also been involved in sports programs for Indian youth and was invited by the Blackhawks in 2002 to return to Chicago to honor is becoming the first Indian to play in the NHL, fittingly for a team with an Indian logo.
He declined their offer to wear a Blackhawks jersey, choosing his own wardrobe.
Reggie Leach, Jim Neilson and Fred Sasakamoose pose with the Stanley Cup at the BHP Hilton Family Hockey Fest in conjunction with the 2010 World Junior Tournament
Sasakamoose was later inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
Today's featured jersey is a 1953-54 Chicago Black Hawks Fred Sasakamoose jersey from his groundbreaking and only NHL season. The Black Hawks adopted the barberpole style in 1937-38 and remained in use through the 1954-55 season, although with some changes to the crest and adjustments to the striping pattern along the way.
The Blackhawks chose this style jersey as their turn back the clock jersey for the NHL's 75th Anniversary season in 1991-92, reviving a truly distinctive style that many fans were not even aware of, as throwback styles were uncommon, if not unheard of in the NHL at the time.
Fortunately for the seamstresses of the day, player names were still a long way off, as "Sasakamoose" certainly would have required a fair amount of sewing!
Today's video is a feature on Sasakamoose as part of a film entitled "Chiefs and Champions".