Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach Craig Berube and Buffalo Sabres Interim Head Coach Ted Nolan made hockey history Thursday night when they became the first Native/First Nations members to coach against each other in a National Hockey League game.
The Flyers defeated the Sabres 4-1 in Philadelphia. But the real winners Thursday were Native American and Canadian First Nations youngsters who got a glimpse of the modern-day possibilities for advancement in a game that their ancestors helped create hundreds of years ago.
“It’s huge,” Nolan told Philadelphia Daily News columnist Marcus Hayes before Thursday’s game. “The significance of it is not really what it means to me, or Craig Berube, but what it means when you think of what our ancestors went through.”
Nolan is Ojibwe. Berube is part Cree. Nolan took over the Sabres after Head Coach Ron Ralston was fired earlier this month. Berube landed the Flyers job when Head Coach Peter Laviolette was canned in October.
The Flyers coach, nicknamed “Chief” during his two-fisted playing days, succinctly summed up the significance of the two men being bench bosses at the same time.
“It’s pretty cool,” he told Hayes.
Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated Muir reported that George Armstrong was the first First Nations member to coach in the NHL when he piloted the Toronto Maple Leafs for 47 games during the 1988-89 season. Former New York Islanders scoring machine Bryan Trottier followed when he coached the New York Rangers during the 2002-03 season.
“These coaches are real trailblazers in sport, especially in the NHL, Peter Dinsdale, chief executive officer of the Assembly of First Nations, told The Philadelphia Daily News. “It’s remarkable given all the barriers that exist for First Nations peoples.”
The rise of Berube and Nolan as coaches coincides with the 60th anniversary of Fred Sasaskamoose becoming the first First Nations member to play in the NHL. He joined the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1953-54 season.
He paved the way a generation of players that includes Trottier, former Philadelphia Flyers sniper Reggie Leach, Henry Boucha, Dale McCourt, Stan Jonathan, Gino Odjick, Bobby Taylor, and Chris Simon.
Current NHL players of Native/First Nations heritage include Carey Price and Rene Bourque of the Montreal Canadiens, Vernon Fiddler of the Dallas Stars, T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues, Dwight King of the Los Angeles Kings, D.J. King, and Cody McCommick of the Sabres. Jordan Nolan, Ted Nolan’s son, is a forward with the Kings.