A historic NHL matchup is set to unfold in Philadelphia tonight.
For the first time in American hockey history, two First Nation coaches, Ted Nolan, interim head coach of the Sabers, and Craig Berube, head coach of the Flyers, will play against each.
“It’s huge,” Nolan, an Ojibwa, told Philly.com on Wednesday. “The significance of it is not really what it means to me, or Craig Berube, but what it means when you think of what our ancestors went through.”
“It’s pretty cool,” added Berube, who is part Cree.
“These coaches are real trailblazers in sport, especially in the NHL,” Peter Dinsdale, chief executive officer of the Assembly of First Nations, told Philly.com. “It’s remarkable, given all the barriers that exist for First Nations peoples.”
Berube became the fourth Native coach earlier this season when he replaced Peter Laviolette in Philly.
Nolan made his return to the NHL on November 13 after five years out of the league. His last job was with the New York Islanders in 2007-08. During his five-year departure, Nolan coached Latvia’s national team, and will continue in that post at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
George Armstrong broke that barrier for First Nations coaches in the NHL when he stepped behind the Toronto Maple Leafs’ bench for 47 games during the 1988-89 seasons.
This season also marks the 60th anniversary of forward Fred Sasakamoose becoming the first Native to play in the NHL. He made his debut with the Chicago Blackhawks against the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 1954 and went on to appear in 10 more games that season before finishing his career in the minors.
Currently, there are 10 players in the league who have acknowledged Native heritage: Arron Asham, Rene Bourque, Kyle Chipchura, Vernon Fiddler, D.J. King, Dwight King, Cody McCormick, Carey Price, T. J. Oshie and Jordin Tootoo.
*Some reporting from SI.com.