Fred Sasakamoose dies; was Indigenous trailblazer in NHL

Tributes are pouring in for a Saskatchewan man who blazed trails as an Indigenous NHL player.

Fred Sasakamoose died Tuesday afternoon at the age of 86 after being hospitalized in recent days for COVID-19.

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Fred, from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation reserve, played for the Chicago Blackhawks as the first Indigenous player in the NHL in 1954 after a successful period with Moose Jaw in junior hockey.

He played pro and senior hockey until 1960, and since then has worked at the grassroots level with minor hockey and tournaments. In 2018 Fred spoke at the closing ceremonies of the Saskatchewan Winter Games in North Battleford, and appeared at the NHL Winter Classic game between the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames in Regina last year.

The announcement of Fred's passing was made on Facebook by his son Neil Sasakamoose, executive director of Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs. He said Fred died at around 3 p.m. Saskatchewan time in hospital.

“He just couldn’t keep responding, his body just couldn’t keep up,” said Neil. He said Fred told him that afternoon how he was feeling. “I’m not scared, I’m ready to go,” he said.

Neil responded: “Dad if you’re tired, you go. You go, and don’t worry about us over here.”

He also said Fred had wanted to thank everyone for what they did, and had seen the videos that had been sent in to him.

“This is what happens with COVID-19,” Neil said on the Facebook video. He urged people to take the virus seriously.

“Everyone just bear down. Listen to your Chiefs, let them do what they have to do, listen to your Mayors, listen to your Premiers, listen to the Prime Minister, listen to the other party, just listen and comply for a while. We’re going to get a vaccine soon. We’re going to get back to normal. I don’t get that chance anymore, my father, he’s going to miss it by two months.”

Tributes have been pouring in online including from the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, which sent out this Tweet:

“We are heartbroken to learn that #SHHOF Inductee, Fred Sasakamoose (Sandy Lake Reserve) has passed away. Fred was the first Indigenous player in the @NHL, playing for the

@NHLBlackhawks. Our condolences go out to Fred's family and friends. #SaskHockey #LegendsLiveHere”.

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