“You know, it isn't often that you'll find 5,000 South Dakotans in Western South Dakota cheering for an Indian kid,” says Brandon Ecoffey, an Oglala Lakota journalist and hockey fan from Rapid City. “You know, and the way that (Winston) Day Chief plays the game with his ability and hard work, it's something that we can all really come together and support.”
And it isn't just Day Chief, a 26-year-old Blackfoot from the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta. Rush teammate and fellow Canadian Justin Sawyer is of Ojibwe descent. At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Sawyer plays a different role on the ice than Day Chief.
But Ecoffey believes both have hustled their way into the hearts of non-Native hockey fans, while inspiring Native Americans in western South Dakota – a people known for their basketball skills and passion – to celebrate a different sport.
“Winston Day Chief and Justin Sawyer are two players that connect not only with Native fans who are new to the sport but non-Native fans through their play,” Ecoffey says.
Sawyer carries a big stick on the ice, but also values his impact in race relations.
“I think it's great,” Sawyer says. “People are starting to realize that we all just love hockey and we're all friends, so it's great.”
Video and story via KELOLAND TV.