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Edmonton man collects rookie cards of all Indigenous players ever in the NHL

Naim Cardinal says a lot of people don't realize the role Indigenous athletes have played in the sport.

Naim Cardinal owns all rookie cards for all 70 Indigenous NHL hockey players.

Kashmala Fida / Metro

Naim Cardinal owns all rookie cards for all 70 Indigenous NHL hockey players.

It was a mission three years in the making — so when Naim Cardinal finally got his hands on the rookie card of every Indigenous player to ever skate in the NHL, 70 in all, he snapped a photo and tweeted it out.

Since that tweet a week ago, his photo has generated more than 1,000 likes and a conversation about the unsung role Indigenous athletes have played in building Canada's game.

“People are seeing the players in my collection and going, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that guy is Indigenous and this guy was Indigenous,’ so this has created those kind of conversations,” said Cardinal, an Indigenous community engagement advisor at Norquest University.

Cardinal based his collection on the list curated by an online sports site called Native Hockey.

Included in his collection? Oilers goaltending great Grant Fuhr, who has Indigenous heritage, and T.J. Oshie, the current right-winger for the Washington Capitals, who is Ojibwe.

“Talking to my wife and dad, they made a good point," Cardinal said, "that a lot of these players never got recognized for being an Indigenous person in the NHL during their careers, and people are really able to see that now."

He hopes his collection helps give their careers and accomplishments the recognition they deserved.

“I think that’s what’s most important,” he said.

Kashmala Fida/Metro

Cardinal, 36, started collecting when he was eight years old. A member of the Tallcree First Nation, he decided to focus on Indigenous players starting in 2014.

“I admired a lot of these hockey players for much of my life, and I just think it’s important to recognize their accomplishments,” he said.

Not every player had a rookie card, and many who did weren't easy to find. He scoured eBay, flea markets and card shops.

The hardest card was Ted Hodgson, who played four games for the Boston Bruins during the 1966-67 season. After two years of hunting, Cardinal eventually resorted to buying a set of postcards for the entire team online.

Hockey is hugely popular in the Indigneous community, Cardinal said, and he hopes his collection helps inspires kids who love the sport.

“I don't think people know the amount of Indigenous people that have made it to the NHL, or are even currently in the NHL, so it can be really inspiring to see,” he said.

There are currently eight Indigenous players in the NHL, according to the list.

Cardinal's favourites include Chicago Blackhawks forward Jordin Tootoo, who he points out has overcome personal challenges, and is the only Inuit player with a rookie card. He calls Carey Price, who plays for the Montreal Canadiens, the best goalie the league has got.

Although his favourite card of all is Fred Sasakamoose, who first took to the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954, becoming the first Indigenous player in NHL history.

“He really, like, opened up the doors for a lot of these players today,” Cardinal said. “I think the fact that he was the first First Nations player is really important to acknowledge and it was important to have that card in my collection.”

He also hopes his collection continues to grow.

"There will be more Indigenous players coming into the NHL, so I'm just happy to get it together and be able to share it with people.”

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