Wacey Rabbit hosts camp in Lethbridge, hoping to inspire more than just hockey

Wacey Rabbit’s career has seen him play in more than a half dozen countries over 14 professional seasons, and now he’s giving back to the community where he grew up.

“I’m from the Blood Reserve — which is Kainai — and because of COVID my season was delayed, and there was an opportunity for me to give back to the Treaty 7 community,” Rabbit said.

Following a successful Western Hockey League run with the Saskatoon Blades and Vancouver Giants, Rabbit has since played hockey all over the world, in countries like Croatia, Norway, Japan, Italy, the Czech Republic, Romania and across the United States; further than he ever could have imagined.

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“I’m five-foot-10, from the Blood Tribe. I was always told I wasn’t going to make it — because I was too small, or because of where I came from,” he said.

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“I never made the NHL, but I got to play in some really cool places, meet a lot of cool people, and obviously experience some really cool cultures.”

Running his WR20 Power Skill camp at Lethbridge’s ATB Centre over the weekend, Rabbit says he saw a lot of familiar faces.

“A lot of the people that I grew up with — especially on my reserve — a lot of their kids are at this program, so it means that much more,” he said.

“A lot of them are family members, and if they’re not family members I know their parents or grandparents, so for me to give back to my community, that’s most important.”

For parents like Darcie Vielle, who’s 7-year-old son skated in the camp, having their children look up to a role model like Rabbit means more than just improving at hockey.

“It’s so much easier for our youth in our community to identify with someone like Wacey, because he’s from our community,” Vielle said.

Rabbit’s message over the two-day camp was clear: work hard and follow your dreams, wherever they may lead.

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“Even if you don’t make the NHL, just chasing your dream — whether it’s to be a hockey player, in professional sports, or if you want to do anything in education — you follow them and you stick to that, and you believe in yourself, I think that’s the most important thing,” he said.

Rabbit’s path has recently lead him to a new role, as he was named the hockey ambassador for the Indigenous Sport Council of Alberta over the summer.

“Hockey at the end of the day, it’s a sport, and sports are meant to bring people together,” he said.

“All walks of life — that’s male, female — it doesn’t matter. You look at when I started playing in my professional career, there was [only] a handful of Indigenous players, and now hockey has grown so much, and there’s so many opportunities for more kids.”

Click to play video 'Indigenous Sport Council of Alberta plans COVID-19 friendly sports challenge' Indigenous Sport Council of Alberta plans COVID-19 friendly sports challenge

Indigenous Sport Council of Alberta plans COVID-19 friendly sports challenge

Rabbit says the increase in Indigenous representation in hockey — whether it be Ethan Bear and Micheal Ferland in the NHL, or Brigette Lacquette of the Canadian women’s national team — is a big step, but there’s still a long ways to go.

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“There’s a lot of learning to do, there is some education for a lot of coaches and programs,” he said. “That’s why it’s good to have those conversations. They’re uncomfortable conversations, but at the end of the day it will be great for our sport.”

Rabbit is under contract with the Jacksonville Icemen of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) for the upcoming season, whenever that may be.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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