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There's a new face in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) this season. Five years after the introduction of the Lebret Eagles, another First Nations-owned team, the Beardy's Rage, has joined the fold.
Ernie Cameron, Rage President, says the team is a result of approximately two and a half years of negotiations and hard work. After negotiations with the SJHL had been worked out over a year ago, the initiative for a band-owned team failed.
However, hockey is supported so much in First Nations communities, says Cameron, that a number of people were convinced that the idea was sound. Once the support of the SJHL was guaranteed, Cameron says, "A group of individuals bought the team outright for $150,000." The group, including Bill Cameron, Howard Cameron, Joe Thomas, Cal Parenteau, Rick Parenteau, Ernie Cameron, key negotiator George Cameron and three other individuals, purchased the failing Minot Topguns.
Renamed the Beardy's Rage, the team plays home games on the Beardy's & Okemasis reserve. Cameron says they currently have 25 players, 7 of whom are of First Nations ancestry. Ultimately the owners are looking to increase the number of First Nations players to 50 percent but recognize the need for balance.
Players are billeted in the nearby town of Duck Lake and in homes on-reserve. Cameron maintains that the community has demonstrated its generosity by opening its doors to the players. But after all he says, "Beardy's community is a community that is very supportive of hockey."
Despite an active involvement by many people, attendance at the games has been described as "disheartening". Management is certain that this will eventually change. "The players and people involved in this team are optimistic that it will become successful," states Cameron. "I am confident that it will."
Success on the ice is being counted on to draw crowds. "Winning the championship would be nice but that's out of the question for this year," Cameron believes. The goal this year, he says, is to make the play-offs. The objective for subsequent years is to build on their initial success with the championship as the ultimate target.
More meaningful than the championship, says Cameron, is the awareness that the team is creating about Aboriginal players. "The most important thing to me," he says, "is to promote and enhance Native hockey and Native talent."
Beardy's Rage can be seen at the Willow Cree Sports Centre for all their home games throughout the 1997-98 SJHL season.