Ted Nolan finally has his rookie card more than 40 years after his NHL debut. Better late than never, especially since it includes a nod to his First Nations heritage.
Upper Deck unveiled a “First Peoples Rookie Cards” set this month featuring eight native hockey players who didn’t get the chance the first time around. It comes at a time when appreciation for Native American and First Nations influences in sports is on the rise.
It’s kind of like someone calling you 40 years after your 18th birthday and saying, “Hey, you’re turning 18,” Nolan said. It wasn’t as exciting as it would have been if I actually got it when I was a rookie, but still I’m so honored to receive it, especially with the Indigenous component in it, because (for) a lot of our kids doing representation really matter, and the more the kids see things like this happening, they can dream too.
That was the hope of native card collector Naim Cardinal, who first floated the idea at a trade show a few years ago. There were some players missing from his collection that he thought deserved what they deserve.
We thought that was an interesting concept,” said Upper Deck senior marketing manager Paul Nguyen.
A group made up mostly of Indigenous community members worked to limit opportunities to players who had never previously owned an officially licensed NHL trading card. The result is a set featuring Nolan, Dan Frawley, Jason Simon, Bill LeCaine, Rocky Trottier, Victor Mercredi, Danny Hodgson and Johnny Harms.
The cards, including the logo on each of them, were designed by artist Jacob Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, while Cardinal wrote content on the back that emphasized the player’s native heritage and family history.
Nolan’s card, which shows him in a Detroit Red Wings uniform, points out that he is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) from Ontario’s Garden River First Nation and not only played in the NHL with the Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, but also a became a successful coach. and has two sons who made it to the competition, Jordan and Brandon.
Having a rookie card like his sons is a cool development for Nolan, who said, “It’s kind of a family affair. Going one step further, the tickets will not be sold, but rather distributed at the 3NOLANS First Nation Hockey School and other Indigenous hockey camps and events.
Nolan hopes that showing the cards to kids has the same effect on them as watching the likes of Stan Jonathan, Gary Sargent, and Jimmy Neilson have on him when he was growing up.
You can walk around school the next day and be very proud of those gentlemen (because) even though we didn’t know them, they looked a lot like you, he said. Now you can’t just talk about it. You can really show photos that it really happened.
Hockey historians have been digging deeper into the roles of some of the first non-white hockey pioneers in recent months and years, including Native American defenseman Taffy Abel and Henry Elmer Buddy Maracle.
After more details come to light Canada’s history of boarding schools pushed First Nations children to adapt to white culture from the 1800s to the 1970s, Nolan prides himself on being an example of an athlete embracing his native heritage.
We had a lot of our elders and a lot of our chiefs showing us the way, and especially the residential school survivors and how hard they fought to keep who we are, said Nolan, who coached and won parts of six NHL seasons the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in 1996-97. I’m just another part of that, trying to build on that legacy of our ancestors and make the next generation even stronger than this generation.
Nguyen said this map set has been in the works for years and pointed out that it comes at a good time given the dialogue that is underway, especially in Canada, about the treatment of Indigenous peoples and what can be done now to learn from them.
It’s continuing the conversation with everyone and it’s not just letting it slide, he said. It puts it in a really good light where people can have that conversation.
Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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