Last October, I wrote an article in The Nation about the Cree Nation Bears tournament where I said the “Cree Nation Bears” were the “first Cree hockey team to join a structured league.”
Well, well, history caught up with me and I am writing today to apologize to THE TRUE FIRST CREE NATION HOCKEY TEAM that joined a structured league. I’m talking about the hockey team “LES RENARDS” and I would like to share some of their story with all of you.
The year was 1966-1967. “Les Renards” (which means “The Foxes” in French) was a midget hockey team made up of Cree hockey players attending the residential school in La Tuque that year.
School was not always fun or easy for them. It was often very difficult. But there was something that helped ease the long winters for those young Native students. There was a game that nourished their soul, that floated through their veins….there was HOCKEY! And Crees can play that game!
At that time, there was a hockey league in the La Tuque region. It was a league of “Midget A” calibre, the highest level of midget hockey in the area.
And the Cree boys from residential school were ready to play in the league. Their team was made up ofthe BEST NATIVE HOCKEY PLAYERS of 1966-1967.
The league played in five cities in the La Tuque region. The colours of the sweaters worn by “Les Renards” were yellow and black. It was a tough league. We’re talking about a “body contact” league.
The “Les Renards” season was more than they had dreamed. They played so well, they won the championship that year! According to the memories of one the players, George Matches, the arena was packed that day. Most of the audience was rooting for La Tuque, and clearly expected them to win. But the Native boys, who came from a little residential school, suprised everyone and proved they were worth a lot! This picture, with them holding the 1966-1967 Championship Cup, was taken right after the winning game. (Their faces say it all!)
That year, they all also played two exhibition games against “Pointe Bleue”, another Native hockey team, which was not in the League, but entered tournaments. The “Pointe Bleue” team had a perfect score on all of their trips.until they faced “Les Renards”.
The only two games “Pointe Bleue” lost that year were the two exhibition games against “Les Renards”. And guess what? “Les Renards” were never invited to play against “Pointe Bleue” again. (Wonder why?!?)
Also, in the middle of the season, four of the “Renards” players were selected to join the All Star Team made up of four players from each team in the League. From the Renards they were; Leonard House, Edward Gilpin, Steven Lameboy and Samuel Iserhoff. The All Stars game was played against an All Star Team from Montreal….which also got a taste of the Renard power. Montreal was soundly beaten by our northern boys.
During that All Star Game, you could see these men looking very intently at the players and taking notes. Well they were scouts …and at the end of the season these four Renards were approached by the scouts and invited to a Junior camp the following season.
Unfortunately, for all kinds of reasons, no one attended the camp.
And guess what? The following hockey season, “Les Renards” were not allowed to re-enter the Midget A League as a “Native Hockey Team”. They were only allowed to play if they split up their team and spread their players around into the other hockey teams in the league….(Wonder why?!) Easy! THEY WERE TOO STRONG!
Now listen kids! (Oops! I sound like one of those colourful hockey announcers with a funny tie! ) If you meet any of these “Renards” on the street, or inside an arena (that’s where they usually still hang around), well you can look to “Les Renards” and you can ask them to talk to you about the GAME OF HOCKEY and their long journey filled with courage and determination that took them to the top that year. And ask them to tell you about hockey being the key to their success at school.
So, I was wrong about the “Cree Nation Bears” being the first team to join a league and my apologies go to “Les Renards”. Thank you for allowing our youngsters to know where their passion for hockey comes from and for being the ones that skated a pathway for today’s young talents.
Well, time changes, but Cree hockey talent remains the same!
Although I was not around then, and didn’t have a chance to see any of their games, I would like to congratulate “Les Renards” for their 1966-67 season! Would you believe you still have fans thirty years later!!!!
Way to go FOXES !!
Many thanks go to George Matches for sharing his story and to Rosemary Matches for translatingit to me. If any “Renards” have additional stories to share about these very interesting hockey days,please contact George and Rosemary Matches in Chisasibi, or me.