Indigenous players help Connecticut hockey squad win minor pro championship

Wednesday, May 17th, 2023 3:35pm


Image Caption

Daniel McKitrick and Tobias Odjick (at centre), players with the Danbury Hat Tricks, celebrate their Federal Prospects Hockey League championship win May 14.


“It was unreal. I’ve won tournaments in the past, but this was the first league championship I’ve won at any level.” — Tobias Odjick
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The 2022-23 hockey season had its share of ups and downs for Tobias Odjick.

The 22-year-old forward, a member of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec, broke his jaw and lost a handful of teeth during his third game of the season with the Danbury Hat Tricks, a minor pro squad in Connecticut.

When he was ready to return to action, Odjick’s father Gino, one of the most popular Indigenous players that played in the National Hockey League, died in early January.

Tobias Odjick rejoined the Hat Tricks, a member of the nine-team Federal Prospects Hockey League (FPHL), later that month.

Odjick’s campaign concluded this past Sunday, May 14, when the Hat Tricks captured the FPHL championship.

Odjick and his teammates downed the Carolina Thunderbirds 3-2 in Game 5 of their best-of-five league final.

The Hat Tricks’ roster also included another Indigenous player, rookie forward Daniel McKitrick. The 25-year-old is an Inuk who grew up in the Nunavut community of Coral Harbour.

“It was unreal,” Odjick said of Danbury’s championship. “I’ve won tournaments in the past, but this was the first league championship I’ve won at any level.”

The day after winning the FPHL crown, members of the Hat Tricks hopped on their team bus and travelled to New York City, about an hour’s drive away, to celebrate their victory at a rooftop bar.

“It was surreal,” Odjick said of the party, which overlooked the New York skyline, including a close view of the Empire State Building. “It was nuts.”

Odjick appeared in 17 regular season matches with the Hat Tricks this season. He earned 18 points, including eight goals, in those appearances.

He added seven points (four goals and three assists) in 10 playoff games.

For Odjick, this marked his second season with the Hat Tricks. He had registered 32 points in 35 regular season and playoff contests a year ago.

Odjick said he was confident the Danbury squad would have a successful season this year.

“I talked to my coach at the beginning of the season and he said ‘we’re building a championship team here’,” Odjick said.

Ideally, he would like to move up to a higher level of minor pro hockey next season, but if need be he is willing to return to the Danbury organization.

The Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), the ECHL and the American Hockey League are all considered higher-calibre circuits than the FPHL.

Odjick, however, first needs to deal with his left knee before determining when and where he’ll play next.

Odjick will suit up for his First Nation for this week’s Fred Sasakamoose Chief Thunderstick National Hockey Championship, which runs May 18 to May 21 in Saskatoon.

He will then return to his First Nation and start making plans to have knee surgery.

“Everything is absolutely destroyed in there,” Odjick said of his knee, adding both his ACL and MCL need repairing.

Odjick is hoping for a quick recovery.

“The doctor said it was going to be a nine-month recovery. I told him I’m going to be back in four months and ready for the start of next season.”

Daniel McKitrick
Daniel McKitrick, an Inuk from Coral Harbour, Nunavut, celebrated the Hat Tricks' win in New York in view of the Empire State Building.

As for McKitrick, he had started his pro career this past fall as a member of the FPHL’s Mississippi Sea Wolves.

But he welcomed a December trade to the Hat Tricks.

“When I got traded, they were the number one team (in the standings),” McKitrick said.

And he helped make the squad even better. McKitrick averaged more than a point per game in regular season matches, collecting 39 points, including 18 goals, in 33 contests.

He then chipped in with six points in 10 playoff games.

McKitrick was obviously thrilled the Hat Tricks captured their league title.

“Any championship you win feels great,” he said. “And we worked hard to get this one.”

Like Odjick, McKitrick will also compete in this week’s Fred Sasakamoose national tourney. He’ll play for a Rankin Inlet squad representing his territory.

McKitrick plans to return to Nunavut after that for a couple of months. And then he’ll head to Thunder Bay later in the summer to begin training for the next hockey season.

McKitrick is hoping to crack the roster for a club in the SPHL. But if that doesn’t happen he would happily return to suit up for the Hat Tricks again.

The Hat Tricks’ roster this season also included Daniel Amesbury, a 32-year-old native of Maple Ridge, B.C.

Amesbury, an enforcer had a team-high 298 penalty minutes in 29 games this season. He made a return to the game this year, having last played minor pro during the 2013-14 campaign.

Amesbury has Indigenous ancestry and we’re told is in the process of connecting to his First Nation in his home province. has reached out to team officials to get more information.

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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.