He's a grown man with a long hockey career behind him, but getting his own licensed NHL trading card left Jason Simon fighting back tears.
"You know, really, it's just a card, right? But for that little boy inside me, it meant so much," an emotional Simon told Afternoon Drive's Allison Devereaux on Wednesday.
Simon, 53, is from Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ont. He played for the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes (now Arizona Coyotes) and the New York Islanders in the 1990s.
Now, Simon is among former players featured on a new set of cards, released by Upper Deck, called the First Peoples Rookie Cards, lauding Canadian Indigenous hockey players who never had a licensed NHL trading card.
Before being drafted by the NHL in 1989, Simon played junior hockey in Chatham, London and Windsor in southwestern Ontario.
He said the 2.5- by 3.5-inch card is a testament to his decades-long career across 13 leagues before retiring in 2008.
It also speaks to his determination to become a professional athlete, even as naysayers told him from a young age he would never achieve his dream because he is Indigenous.
"NHL players, when I was younger, they told me, 'Jason, if I can make it, you can make it, too.' They didn't mention anything about being Indian, or Native or living on a reserve. They just said if I can do it, you can do it, too. I took that to heart," he said.
"When other people told me, 'Oh, don't you understand, you're an Indian and you're on the reserve, and you don't have a lot of money, but you think you're going to make the NHL,' that kind of went right over my head. I wasn't even listening."
Upper Deck requested that Simon choose the photo on the card. The one he selected was taken the day he was drafted to the New Jersey Devils from the OHL's Windsor Spitfires in the 11th round.
It was one of the "wildest moments" of his life, he said.
The passion of honouring Indigenous players
The First Peoples Rookie Card set was designed by Jacob Alexis, an Indigenous artist from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. The back of the cards were written by Indigenous card collector Naim Cardinal, who is Cree originally from Fort Vermilion, Alta., and a member of Tallcree First Nation.
An avid hockey card collector for roughly 24 years, Cardinal told CBC News that since 2014, he's been focused on putting together a rookie card collection of every player of Indigenous (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) descent. So far, he has 95.
Upper Deck approached Cardinal in 2020 to consult on the process of creating the card set.
"This project was over two years in the making and I am so honoured that I could be a part of bringing attention to the careers of all of the hockey players in the set," Cardinal said. "Not many people get to say they are the part of a first-of-its-kind hockey card set and I feel very humbled that I was asked to be involved."
LISTEN | Aamjiwnaang player Jason Simon shares his excitement over getting his own trading card:
Along with Simon, the pack features these players on various NHL teams:
Dan Frawley and William LeCaine (Pittsburgh Penguins).
Johnny Harms (Chicago).
Danny Hodgson (Toronto Maple Leafs).
Victor Mercredi (Atlanta Flames, now the Calgary Flames).
Rocky Trottier (New Jersey Devils).
Ted Nolan (Detroit Red Wings).
Upper Deck said in a news release that signing events were planned with Frawley in Belleville, Ont., and Hodgson in Fort McMurray, Alta., on Saturday "to further engage fans."
Simon has yet to actually hold his card — he's expecting it to arrive in the mail any day now.
He said his first order of business will be handing out packs at an upcoming NHL youth hockey tournament in Mississauga, Ont., hoping it will inspire other Indigenous hockey players to persevere.