Former NHLer Hodgson honoured by release of Indigenous hockey card set

It’s been a long time coming, but the recognition is more than welcomed by Danny Hodgson.

The 57-year-old is one of eight former Indigenous NHL players who are a part of the Upper Deck First Peoples Rookie Cards set, released Jan. 13.

The limited-edition set honours Indigenous hockey players who never had a licensed trading card, and also includes Dan Frawley, Johnny Harms, Victor Mercredi, Rocky Trottier, William LeCaine, Ted Nolan and Jason Simon.

“The first word would be honoured (that) came to mind right away,” Hodgson told The Canadian Press.

“If I had a nickel for every time I got asked for my hockey card all those years. … 37 years I’ve asked for a hockey card and to have to say ‘Oh no, … I'm sorry I don't have one (to people).’ … But now to actually have one, and the way it came out too, with the Indigenous side of it too, I think that's quite privileged.”

Hodgson, who is Cree, played four seasons from 1985-89 for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks. He had 74 points (29 goals, 45 assists) in 114 career games.

He continued his career in Switzerland from 1994-2005 before retiring.

Hodgson was the first player to make it to the NHL out of Fort McMurray, Alta. He won the Memorial Cup with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League in 1985 and also represented Canada at the world junior hockey championship in 1984 and 1985.

The recognition the cards provide is something that isn't lost on him.

“We're talking late '70s, early '80s,” Hodgson said. “This was a different time, and you know, you had to be — as my father always instilled in me, you had to be, I hate to say it, sorry to say it, but it was truth — like five times better than the next one because you are Indigenous and that's just the way it is and the way it was.

“I didn't really think too much about it honestly at the start, but now that I'm really wrapping my head around it, it is quite something with all the work that I've seen put in and what it really actually means now, to actually have a hockey card. I kind of get little goosebumps, honestly.”

The production and rollout of the cards themselves has been a couple of years in the making.

Naim Cardinal says he received a message from Upper Deck reps who listened in on an Instagram live talk he did with Ken Reid in 2020 regarding his hockey card collection, where Cardinal brought up the number of Indigenous players without cards.

Cardinal, a member of Tallcree First Nation, put together a board of fellow Indigenous community members which selected the players. He wrote the text for the backs of the cards, while artist Jacob Alexis, from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, designed them.

“It was really cool. It was also a lot of work,” Cardinal said. “Talking to the players and their family members about how impactful this is for them and how important it is.

"Every single player in this set has had a lot of major accomplishments during their hockey careers and are continuing to have success in their post-hockey careers.

The journey didn’t come without its challenges.

“Part of it was really the pandemic. … We've faced so many shortages on materials (and) supplies,” said Upper Deck senior marketing manager Paul Nguyen. “So for us to build this type of set, we've really had to work to make sure that this was done correctly … and timing wise, like when can we release it.

“(Another) … was finding imagery for some of the athletes. Because it's been such a long time and the imaging some of the times was not so great. If they weren't on Getty, which some of them weren't, we had to talk to the families, to the NHL, any way possible to see how we can get some good imagery to be on these cards.”

In an effort to get the free cards in the hands of the Indigenous people, especially youth, the packs will be distributed at several Indigenous hockey camps, as well as a minor and little league hockey tournament in the coming months.

There will also be signing events held with Frawley in Belleville, Ont., and Hodgson in Fort McMurray on Jan. 21 for fans.

“What I hope it would do is give them (youth) hope,” Hodgson said. “Give them a chance to say, ‘Hey, look at this guy here. Danny did this and he's Indigenous and he came from this background here.’

“I've done speaking engagements on reservations throughout Western Canada. And that's one of the messages that I've always wanted to give them. It still remains true that with your hard work and dedication and if you want, you can do it and so it all leads to hope and inspiration for me.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2023.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press