By Kelly Anne Smith
NIPISSING FIRST NATION – The Nipissing Warriors are having another wave of fame. They were an all-Anishinaabe team playing in the Industrial League in the 1960s and early 1970s. In their first year they won the league championship, packing the Sturgeon Falls Arena. In the Inter-Reserve Hockey League, they won two provincial titles.
Now, a new documentary on the team called The Nipissing Warriors has caught the attention of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Reagan Films video was produced by the Nipissing First Nation Culture and Heritage Manager Glenna Beaucage, and Dr. Katrina Srigley, an associate professor of History at Nipissing University.
A Nipissing Warrior, Les Couchie is featured in the film saying the team brought the players a sense of unity and pride. “You could hold your head up and say you were one of the Warriors.”
Soon after viewing The Nipissing Warriors video, Couchie read an article about a hockey team formed at a Residential School that was placed at a hockey hall of fame. “So I thought why wouldn’t the Warriors be in a hockey hall of fame? In 1970, Nipissing First Nation was a small community of 250 people which beat towns like Wiki (Wikwemikong) and Six Nations with six thousand people.”
Couchie happens to know Ron Ellis, a Toronto Maple Leaf for sixteen years and now Program Director for the Hockey Hall of Fame Development Association. “Ron Ellis and I have been good friends going back to my days when I used to run golf tournaments. So I sent it up to Ron. He forwarded it to Phil Pritchard who is the Vice-President of the Resource Centre and Curator. He liked it.”
“Phil sent me a message back saying ‘We’ll put you in. I need you to gather as much memorabilia as possible’. And then he said specifically, ‘I’d really like to get Mike Penasse’s Philadelphia Firebirds jersey because we do not have that jersey in the Hockey Hall of Fame’.”
So Couchie called up Mike Penasse who said he would give his jersey to the museum. The former Nipissing Warrior, Penasse played for the winning Philadelphia Firebirds in the 70s. “He was a kid who played on our team who went on to play junior and then pro-hockey. He was one of the first guys from our reserve who grew up here and almost made it to the NHL. There were Junior A players on our team – Ralph Beaucage, Ron Avery, and Mike Penasse, and John Sawyer.”
Couchie played right-wing as a Warrior scoring eight goals in one game, seven in another, and twice scored six goals in one game.
He has a winning game puck he scooped off the ice and his Nipissing Warrior jacket to pass on to the historical exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile Nipissing First Nation is looking for photos from the Homemakers Club to showcase the people who helped the Warrior players be successful. Women and men of The Homemakers Club are fondly remembered for fundraising for hockey sticks and equipment, renting buses for transportation for players and their fans and for the loads of cut-up fresh oranges during playoffs.