Indigenous gamers from across Canada will square off against each other on Playstation's NHL 20 series for a chance at a cash prize and the ultimate bragging rights — the country's best Indigenous online hockey team.
"It's the neechi Stanley Cup of online gaming," said Cameron Edwards, one of six players from the Lake Manitoba Eagles team.
This weekend, 64 teams from Indigenous communities across Canada will compete in the Fred Sasakamoose "Chief Thunderstick" National Hockey Championship online.
"The boys are pumped. They have been talking about it since they got in [to the tournament]," said Edwards.
Edwards has been playing the EA Sports NHL series since NHL 94 was released, and is also a hockey fanatic.
For Edwards, who has been using a wheelchair because of arthritis since 2012, getting an opportunity to represent his community is something he's looking forward to.
"It's not about the money, it would be fun to win something, but it's something that's nice for a neechi community to have," said Edwards.
Taking the games online
The annual Fred Sasakamoose tourney is usually held in the spring in Saskatoon to honour its namesake, one of the first Indigenous hockey players to play in the National Hockey League.
Neil Sasakamoose, Fred's son, is the organizer of the tournament. After cancelling the on-ice tournament that was scheduled for April, he was approached by someone with an alternative idea.
"That young person messaged me and said 'You should host an online EA event,'" said Sasakamoose.
"I asked on the page if there was an appetite and we must have got about 100 messages from across Canada."
Altogether, the callout for online teams received over 160 entries. With that many teams, the organizers settled on 64 spots, with the hopes of regional representation from Indigenous communities across the country.
Sasakamoose said "one of the largest eGaming companies in the world" offered to host the tournament but instead he wanted to support Indigenous entrepreneur Tristan Keshane of Treaty4eSports gaming.
Games to be live streamed
Last year, Chiwetin Blacksmith, a left-winger for the Carleton University hockey team, and his brother Joshua helped lead the Waswanipi Chiefs team to the championship of the 32-team tournament.
"It's definitely one of the tougher tournaments that I've played in," he said.
This year, because of COVID-19, Blacksmith bought a Playstation 4 to help kill the boredom of isolation.
He will be helping the Waswanipi Chiefs defend their title online against teams like the Eskasoni Eagles (N.S.), Tyendinaga Mohawks (Ont.), Ochap Thunder (Sask.) and the Fort McPherson Delta Stars (N.W.T).
"After everything that's been going on — with everyone being self isolated — it's a great way to get the communities involved without actually being in one place," said Blacksmith, who hopes to continue playing professionally.
The tournament will feature 126 games total beginning Friday at 5 p.m. CST (7 p.m. ET), with the championship game scheduled to be played on Sunday night.
The team's captains will be responsible for live streaming their own games, with the live stream links posted on the Fred Sasakamoose tournament Facebook page.