(Photo of Brigette Lacquette. Courtesy of Facebook.)

By: Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com

Brigette Lacquette worked her way up through the hockey ranks to earn a milestone.

Lacquette, a member of Cote First Nation in Saskatchewan, became the first First Nations player to suit up for the Canadian national women’s hockey team.

Lacquette, who is now 30 and lives in Calgary, was a member of the Canadian squad that captured a silver medal at the PyeongChang Olympics staged in South Korea in 2018.

“I have personally experienced the challenges that kids from diverse backgrounds face

when trying to access sports programs,” Lacquette said.

That’s why she jumped at the opportunity last year when asked to become an ambassador for a diversity, equity and inclusion hockey program operated by Kruger Products.

The program has two components. For starters, the Kruger Big Assist initiative awarded six minor hockey associations across Canada $25,000 each earlier this year.

Those half-dozen hockey groups were then invited to apply for the Kruger Second Assist program, which awarded an additional $50,000 grant to one of the associations. Lacquette is ambassador for this Second Assist component.

It was announced on April 13 that the Flin Flon Minor Hockey Association in Manitoba was awarded the extra funding to help increase diversity, equity and inclusion so the group could create equal opportunities for youth to play the sport.

“It’s awesome,” Lacquette said of the program. “And it’s definitely something I wanted to get behind and promote.”

Lacquette is glad to see Kruger Products, a Canadian manufacturer of tissue products for household, commercial and industrial use, step up and provide a total of $200,000 this year in program funding.

“It’s important for a company like Kruger to give back to communities,” Lacquette said.

The company makes various household brand names, including Scotties, Cashmere, Purex, SpongeTowels and Bonterra.

“It’s very important for them,” Lacquette said of Kruger’s involvement in the funding program. “They realize hockey is a huge sport in Canada.”

Lacquette said her family, no doubt, would have benefitted from a similar program when she was growing up.

She also has a sister and brother who played hockey. And Lacquette believes the expenses her parents racked up to keep three children in the sport must have been high.

“I still don’t know how they did it,” Lacquette said. “To this day I don’t know how they did. I’m sure they went into debt.”

Flin Flon is located in northern Manitoba, about 700 kilometres away from the provincial capital of Winnipeg.

Like many other northern Manitoba communities, Flin Flon has a large Indigenous population.

So, it’s not surprising the minor hockey association is planning to utilize some of its funding to build programs that will reduce barriers and encourage Indigenous youth, as well as young Canadian immigrants, to play hockey.

Representatives of the Flin Flon association will also use funds to include more female coaches and players on its teams.

And the association also plans to develop programming that will be specifically aimed for youth with neurological or physical challenges.

“I like the idea of making it more diverse and inclusive,” Lacquette said. “Hockey has been a white, male-dominated sport. It’s exciting for the kids.”

Lacquette said as a program ambassador she has not been officially asked to visit Flin Flon to help further promote the initiative. But she said she would gladly do so if the opportunity presents itself.

Lacquette continues to remain busy with the sport. She is in her second season of being a scout for the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks.

Susan Irving, the chief marketing officer of Kruger Products, is proud of her company’s funding program.

“Kruger Big Assist has already had a significant impact, having provided financial assistance to hundreds of hockey families in need,” Irving said. “Now in its second year, the Second Assist is drawing attention to the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Irving is also pleased to see the positives that will come out of this year’s Second Assist recipient.

“We are honoured to support the Flin Flon Minor Hockey Association in its efforts to redefine the game and make a tangible impact in the lives of young Canadians,” she said.