Memorial Cup will be hoisted by one of four Indigenous participants

Thursday, May 18th, 2017 1:13pm


Image Caption

Owen Headrick is one of four Indigenous men vying for the the Memorial Cup tournament. (photo by Matt Mead)


By Sam Laskaris
Windspeaker Contributor


The Memorial Cup tournament, which annually features the top Major Junior clubs from the Canadian Hockey League, kicks off on Friday.

Only time will tell which of the four participating clubs will be hoisting the prestigious trophy once the tournament concludes on May 28 in Windsor, Ont.

But it is already known that an Indigenous person will be among those celebrating. That’s because all four clubs that are competing in the tournament include an Indigenous individual.

The host Windsor Spitfires, members of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), are guided by head coach Rocky Thompson, a 39-year-old Cree who had some brief stints playing in the National Hockey League.

The tournament also includes three Aboriginal defencemen, Owen Headrick, Ethan Bear and Chase Stewart.

Headrick, an Ojibwe from northern Ontario’s Garden River First Nation, is a member of the OHL champion Erie Otters. Bear, a Cree from Saskatchewan’s Ochapowace First Nation, stars with the Western Hockey League champion Seattle Thunderbirds. And Stewart, who is Ojibwe, patrols the blueline for the Saint John Sea Dogs, who captured the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title.

A closer look at the four Indigenous participants at the Memorial Cup follows.


Thompson, a 39-year-old from Calgary, is in his second season as the head coach of the Spitfires.

Windsor received an automatic berth into the Memorial Cup tourney since it is the host club.

Thompson, however, led the Spitfires to an impressive 41-19-5-3 regular season mark. But Windsor was knocked out of the OHL playoffs after losing its opening round versus the London Knights.

Besides being a former NHL player, Thompson also spent one year coaching in the league, as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers during the 2014-15 campaign.

As a player, Thompson appeared in 25 NHL games, 15 with the Calgary Flames and 10 with the Florida Panthers. During his 10-season pro playing career, Thompson also suited up for seven different clubs in the American Hockey League.

Thompson’s other coaching stints include three years in the WHL with the Edmonton Oil Kings and four seasons with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons.


Headrick, who is 19, joined the Otters this past January. He spent the previous one-and-a-half seasons toiling in the U.S. collegiate ranks with the Michigan-based Lake Superior State Lakers.

But since he is keen to eventually play pro, and in an effort to improve his stock with scouts, Headrick decided to join an already talent-rich Erie club.

Headrick ended up appearing in 26 regular season contests with the Otters and earned eight points, including four goals. He was also credited with four assists in Erie’s 22 playoff matches.

Headrick also had some junior success before heading off to Lake Superior State. He played two seasons with the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds. He led the Thunderbirds to a league championship in 2015 and was chosen as the league’s playoff MVP.


Bear, 19, is considered a highly-touted Edmonton Oilers’ prospect. The Oilers selected him in the fifth round, 124th overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Bear, who has spent the past four seasons with the Thunderbirds, has continued to improve his pro potential. He was chosen as the WHL’s top defenceman this season after racking up 70 points (28 goals and 42 assists) in 67 regular season matches.

Bear then led Seattle to the WHL championship by chalking up 26 points, including a half-dozen goals, in 17 playoff games. He was the league’s top scoring blueliner in the post-season.

Bear, who turns 20 on June 26, has already signed a pro contract. He inked a three-year entry level deal with the Oilers last July. It remains to be seen where Bear will play next season.

If he doesn’t crack the Oilers’ lineup, he could return as an overager to Seattle. A more likely bet is he’ll join Edmonton’s American Hockey League affiliate, the California-based Bakersfield Condors.


Stewart, who was born in Marathon, Ont., was acquired by the Saint John franchise this past August. He had played the previous two years with the Saginaw Spirit, a Michigan-based squad that competes in the OHL.

Stewart, who turned 20 on April 19, provided some stability and leadership on the Sea Dogs’ blueline this year. He chipped in offensively with 11 points, including three goals, in 48 regular season games.

He then earned three assists in 18 post-season games in Saint John’s run to the QMJHL crown.

Stewart finished his minor hockey career in Thunder Bay, Ont. and was hoping to join the Spirit at the start of the 2014-15 season.

When he didn’t crack Saginaw’s opening day roster, he went home and began the year with the Thunder Bay North Stars of the Superior International Junior Hockey League. But after 10 games with the North Stars, Stewart then began his OHL career with Saginaw.