It was through his children — Maverick, Nolan and Rayna — that Dominic Fletcher truly discovered the power of hockey, as well as the necessity of his ties to the Indigenous community.
But it was the combination of the two, hockey and Indigenous culture, that really helped the newly named Indigenous community relations leader with the Greater Sudbury Cubs realize that he had access to something incredibly special within his grasp.
With his children finding their way into the ultra-popular Little NHL Hockey Tournament over the course of the past decade or so, Fletcher was prompted to take his already active involvement as a coach to another level, looking to create opportunities for members of Missanabie Cree First Nation, home to his grandfather and father, and to him and his children.
Starting small, Fletcher and some key allies assembled teams that drew both from their own community but also welcomed those from other areas where hockey talent was abundant but spots on teams were not. The template was cast for some initiatives that would take on substantially more meaning and potential once the Truth & Reconciliation Report was made public in December, 2015.
“We had built something that the community really loves,” said Fletcher. “All I got throughout the tournament was positive, positive feedback.”
With that foundation and with plenty of experience navigating all sorts of levels of hockey where Indigenous and non-Indigenous athletes are brought together with regularity (a competitive minor hockey player, Maverick Fletcher was drafted by the Erie Otters of the OHL last spring), Fletcher knew a pathway to healing and growth clearly existed in Canada’s most popular winter sport.
“I think it’s important to educate the athletes and the public,” he said. “This is about reconciliation. Where do we go from here? What can we do to move forward?"
In more recent years, Fletcher has frequently tapped into the wisdom of Blaine Smith, the Cubs managing director and a man who is no stranger to the landscape of elite hockey in this country.
“Blaine has given me and is giving me some great advice,” said Fletcher. “He has done so much without even knowing that he’s promoting First Nation’s players.”
Given the positive vibes that existed, it was small wonder that conversations last winter and this past summer would involve taking their relationship to the next level, with an outline created of where exactly Fletcher and company could do the most good.
“All they (the Cubs) want to do is engage with the Native community,” Fletcher said.
In fact, the Cubs’ late August announcement regarding Fletcher and the liaison position included undertakings ranging from forging new connections with Indigenous communities across Northern Ontario, to providing support for hockey equipment drives and on to helping identify Indigenous talent capable of competing in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
It will all be launched in a very big way on Sept. 29 in Hanmer when the Cubs play host to the French River Rapids. The game marks a celebration and acknowledgement of the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, which falls on Sept 30.
The Cubs’ roster in recent years has boasted numerous players with ties to area Indigenous communities, including the likes of Billy Biedermann, Samuel Assinewai, Pierson Sobush and Nolan Newton. And going back farther into the past, the franchise welcomed players like Jordan Cheechoo, Dylan and Khadyn Butterfly, Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis, and many more.
And while the team welcomed and made a home for these young players, Fletcher said they can do more.
“We want to have more conversations with the players in these positions,” he said. “Is there anything that we can do better to help those kids settle in, whether that’s with traditional medicine, participating in a smudge ceremony — anything.”
From the Cubs’ standpoint as a franchise, moving forward, hand in hand, with Fletcher was honestly pretty much a no-brainer.
“It is inspiring to partner with motivated people that have the passion and desire to support their community like Dominic,” noted Smith in the team-issued release. “His goal of giving back to those that need support matches perfectly with the Cubs’ movement.”
For the man who greets pretty much everyone he meets with a smile and a friendly handshake, that synergy offers a ton of upside, something that makes Dominic Fletcher even happier.
Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.