Brady Keeper became the first member of Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba to play in the National Hockey League March 28.
The Florida Panthers’ new rookie defenceman made his debut Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators, recording a single shot and two hits in 12:50 of ice time and earning recognition as the game’s third star.
The Panthers beat the Senators 5−2, but the biggest takeaway for a lot of Northern Manitoba residents was the pageantry surrounding Keeper’s big night.
Not only did the 22-year-old get to take part in a ceremonial face-off that featured members of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, but his family was also present to cheer him on in person.
"It's a dream come true, obviously," Keeper told NHL.com. "I've got no words to describe, like I said before, how I feel. I'm just happy my parents and my whole family came down to see me play, same with my girlfriend, my seven-month-old baby and my stepson, as well."
Keeper’s journey to the NHL started in Northern Manitoba, where he played a single season for the midget AAA Norman Northstars and put in another four years for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Opaskwayak Cree Nation Blizzard.
The University of Maine Black Bears eventually picked up the Cross Lake resident for two seasons, where he garnered a total of 13 goals and 31 assists across 73 games for the NCAA team.
Keeper signed a two-year contract with the Panthers March 18.
Panthers’ coach Bob Boughner said his rookie defenceman performed really well under pressure.
“Everyone remembers their first game and how many nerves you have and how tough it is to focus,” Boughner told NHL.com.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee, who is also a Pimicikamak Cree Nation member, congratulated Keeper on behalf of MKO in a March 29 press release.
“Brady’s accomplishment cannot be underestimated or minimized, because it is truly a feat of historical proportions that will resonate throughout the entire MKO and inspire all Indigenous people across the country for many years to come,” Settee said. “It was a moment we will never forget as Pimicikamak Cree Nation members, and we feel a great deal of pride as our community is now profiled and is widely known in the media as the home of Brady Keeper. Brady, however, represents all Manitoba First Nations and will be an important leader and role model for all First Nations youth in Manitoba as they aspire to accomplish their goals and reach their dreams.”
To view the highlights from Keeper’s debut, check out the video section of the Panthers’ official website on NHL.com.