By Darren Zary
CanWest News Service

The aboriginal hockey culture that once spawned enforcer Stan Jonathan has jumped all aboard the Jonathan Cheechoo train.

Cheechoo, a product of the Moose Cree First Nation in Moose Factory, Ont., has scored 56 goals in the National Hockey League this season with the San Jose Sharks. He is the latest aboriginal player to make a name for himself in the NHL. He’s become a role model for young, aspiring hockey players in the native ranks.

“A lot of the NHL guys that are native give a lot of the native kids a lot of hope, that anything can happen if you work hard and you believe in it,” said Saskatoon Tribal Council midget player Keldon Sanderson, who is property of the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes.

“Now that he (Cheechoo) has opened up his game and he’s been potting a lot of goals, he’s one of the guys I look up to as a native kid growing up.
“I like a lot of players, but I’d have to say (Montreal Canadiens defenceman) Sheldon Souray is (still my favourite).”

Ed Bitternose, hockey co-ordinator for the 2006 Saskatchewan First Nations Winter Games, admits that the success of Cheechoo has brought extra attention to the provincial native tournament.

“Oh yeah, that Jonathan fella, he’s up there (among the top scoring leaders),” said Bitternose, a member of the host Gordon First Nation.

“That’s what they (young players) all look for, the NHL stuff. Right now, it’s just getting looked at by scouts at these two arenas (Sherwood Ice Sports Centre). That’s why we put the midgets and the bantams in the same facility. Some of the scouts that are out there asked us if we can have them close to the same venue so they would get an opportunity to look at the kids in that age group.

“We had some inquiries as to how we would set up that age group.”

Hockey scouts already know about Jeremy Boyer — a member of the Agency Chiefs Tribal Council. Boyer, who was picked in the second round of last year’s Western Hockey League bantam draft by the Seattle Thunderbirds, had two goals and two assists Monday as the ACTC dumped the Touchwood Agency Tribal Council (TATC) 10-2. As a rookie, Boyer finished fourth overall among the scoring leaders in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League this past season with the Saskatoon Blazers.

“There’s lots (aboriginal role models), but, yeah, definitely, he (Cheechoo) is one of the better ones,” said Boyer.

Sanderson, Boyer, Sterling Bear (Beardy’s Blackhawks, South East Tribal Council), Ian Clarke (Beardy’s, STC), Matt Watson (Beardy’s, STC) and Craig McCallum (Battlefords North Stars, Meadow Lake Tribal Council) are among the midget AAA players in this year’s First Nations Winter Games.