It was the end of an era on Saturday as the Beardy’s Blackhawks played their final game.
The home team of the Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation has played in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League for the last 25 years but won’t be back next year due to a change in league rules.
Head coach Dale Grayston said it is very disappointing the Saskatchewan Hockey Association appears unable to see some of the special qualities the league’s only First Nation-based team brings to the table.
“We really blend the cultures here and we thought we were a unique team for the league,” he said. “We have nothing against the other teams joining the league. We were just hoping that – we think there was nothing wrong with being a 13-team league or 14. I think it’s a reflection of the history of our team, tradition of our team, meant nothing to them but it’s always meant something to anybody that’s come through here.”
Grayston has been with the Blackhawks right from their inception and says he has seen a number of extremely talented players come through the program over the years.
This includes several players who have gone on to the professional ranks such as the brothers D. J. and Dwight King, Richard Regehr, Sean Collins and Linden Vey.
A number of these alumni were on hand for Saturday’s home game.
This included D.J Gamble who played for the team from 1996 to 1998 when they were still called the Willow Cree Thunder.
Gamble is from Beardy’s and said it was thrill to play in front of his hometown fans for two seasons.
However, he said it didn’t really matter where you were from, once you put on the jersey you were a Blackhawk.
“As long as you put the jersey on, the Blackhawks jersey, or my team was the Willow Cree Thunder, our team was awesome,” he said. “Everybody enjoyed coming down to the rink. Back then there was the drums pounding, soon as you became part of the team it was all right and awesome.”
It was a disappointing day for the Blackhawks on the scoreboard as well as they lost their final game to the Notre Dame Argos 4-3.
The Argos will also not be back in the Midget AAA ranks next year.
However, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association has decided to accept applications from Warman and Estevan to field Midget AAA teams in these communities for 2020-2021 season.
(PHOTOS: Top, the Beardy’s Blackhawks bench during their final game against the Notre Dame Argos on Feb. 22. Bottom, Blackhawks players get ready for the team’s final game. Photos by Fraser Needham.)