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Sports Talk: Vic Mercredi’s new hockey card is more than just a hockey card

So Vic Mercredi got his own hockey card. That alone is really cool, but why it took this long is what gets me.
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Yellowknife’s Vic Mercredi became one of eight former National Hockey League players of Indigenous ancestry who have been memorialized by the Upper Deck Company as part of its First Peoples rookie card set. It was launched on Jan. 13. Image courtesy of Upper Deck Company

So Vic Mercredi got his own hockey card. That alone is really cool, but why it took this long is what gets me.

Mercredi is one of eight players of Indigenous ancestry to receive an officially-licensed National Hockey League trading card courtesy of the Upper Deck Company. It’s called the First Peoples rookie card set and it looks really nice. You may have seen it emblazoned on the front of Wednesday’s Yellowknifer.

The fact he has one now is awesome. He can now tell everyone that yes, he has a hockey card. Took 50 years, but he got one.

James McCarthy sports talk column standard for Yellowknifer NWT News/North Nunavut News

Some people may giggle, snicker and snort at the fact that he officially played just two games with the Atlanta Flames all those years ago, but that’s fine. Those who turn up their nose up at what Mercredi accomplished are welcome to produce their statistics from the time they played in the National Hockey League, or professional hockey in general. I must have missed that time you took to the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens or the Montreal Forum.

Good on Upper Deck for coming out with this series. It’s easy to forget that Indigenous players have been part of professional hockey for decades, so why not highlight some of them? In Mercredi’s case, he’s the first player born and raised in the NWT to have set foot on National Hockey League ice, Indigenous or non-Indigenous. That alone is reason to be proud of him.

But there’s the whole thing around role models. I know some people don’t like to use professional athletes as people to look up to, but in this case, it’s warranted. The talent pool in the NWT isn’t exactly on the same page as, say, Edmonton, but we have had some amazing athletes make their mark in the south. Mercredi is one of those individuals and he did it at a time when Northern athletes were seen as nothing more than just making up the numbers.

In talking with Mercredi this past Monday, he brought up the fact that there have been two born-and-bred Yellowknifers who were first-round draft picks: he and Greg Vaydik. Vaydik was the opening round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1975, eighth overall, two years after Mercredi’s draft. Again, this was in the 1970s. Vaydik got to play five games with Chicago during the 1976-77 season. So he made it, too.

We’ve had other players from Yellowknife drafted before: Steven Hodges by the Florida Panthers in 2012 and Peter Bergman by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996. Joe Dragon was a draft pick of the Penguins as well as part of the 1990 NHL Supplemental Draft following four years at Cornell University. The supplemental draft was held between 1986 and 1994 to allow teams to draft players who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for the annual entry draft i.e. college-aged players in their 20s. None of them made it to the NHL (Dragon and Hodges both played multiple seasons of professional hockey), but they were obviously good enough to get a look-see from those teams.

Fun fact: Dragon remains the only person born in Fort Smith to ever be drafted by a NHL team.

If we’re talking about the player from the NWT who made the biggest bang in the NHL, that’s Pine Point’s own Geoff Sanderson. Yes, I know the hockey card says Hay River, but anyone who knew him growing up will tell you he’s from Pine Point. He was just born in the hospital in Hay River in 1972. Ask his mom how that day went. You ever deliver a child at -55 C?

Fun fact: Sanderson is probably the only player to play in the National Hockey League who hails from a town that no longer exists. I may be wrong but it’s just fun to mention that.

Anyway, he moved south in his younger days, but he spent the first 11 years of his life in the mining community of Pine Point. When all was said and done, Sanderson played 1,104 games in the NHL with exactly 700 points scored. He never won a Stanley Cup, but he did win two World Men’s Hockey Championships with Team Canada in 1994 and 1997.

But Mercredi was the one who started it all and we should always celebrate that. He’ll even tell you he’s the answer to a trivia question, but he’s also someone you can look up to and tell yourself yes, you too can be a first-round pick if you work hard enough.