'Griffin for a Day' program continues Lamothe's legacy of helping Indigenous youth

Griffins players and coaches pose with youth from Calling Lake and Wabasca after an on-ice session at the Downtown Community Arena on Thursday (Jefferson Hagen photo).
Griffins players and coaches pose with youth from Calling Lake and Wabasca after an on-ice session at the Downtown Community Arena on Thursday (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – His retired number 28 hanging in memoriam on the wall behind them, young hockey players from Nakehko Lamothe's hometown cut circles on the Downtown Community Arena ice on Thursday afternoon.

They came from Calling Lake and Wabasca to tour MacEwan and learn more about what their mentor had long instilled in them – a vision to become the best players they can be.

Lamothe, who tragically died following a Griffins game in Calgary in 2019, detailed how much he cared for these kids in this 2018 story.

In his second season, he created what he called 'Shadow Day' – inviting Indigenous youth to MacEwan for a day-in-the-life of a Griffins hockey player.

In the aftermath of Lamothe's passing, Griffins players Shyla Jans and Cam Gotaas picked up the torch to keep the initiative running, rebranding it 'Griffin for a Day.'

Jans recently passed the leadership mantle to current women's hockey player Sydney Hughson, who organized Thursday's 2023 version of the event, the first time the program has hosted the group since the pandemic paused activities in 2020.

"I was still a first year when Janny last put it on, but I thought it had such a great meaning behind it," she said. "I unfortunately didn't know Nakehko, but he had such an impact on the men's team and on the program. He was always willing to give back to where he came from. 

"I take a lot of pride in that; I came from a small town, as well. It just so important to lead by example for younger kids and help create a path for them to do the same, as well."

Players battle for the puck in a drill during MacEwan's 'Griffin For a Day' program on Thursday (Jefferson Hagen photo).

The group watched the Griffins men's team practice early in the morning before launching into a day designed for them, which included a tour of the university, a presentation at MacEwan's kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre, an activity with an elder, a workout and an on-ice session with MacEwan men's and women's players, run by interim head coaches Zack Dailey and Chris Leeming.

Along the way, they educated current Griffins players on what their mentor Lamothe was like.

"Most of them knew Nakehko, which was pretty cool to hear stories about him and get a sense of who he was," said Hughson.

"There was one boy who said he was like his brother. There was a lot of connection between those two. Nakehko has been such an inspiration to them that it's motivated them to keep playing hockey and try to get to the next level."

Youth battle for the puck in front of Griffins forward-turned-goalie-for-a-day Makenna Schuttler on Thursday (Jefferson Hagen photo).

Hughson noted it's an honour to help carry on Lamothe's legacy of mentorship and vision to support Indigenous youth in their hockey pursuits.

"I think it's crucial to carry on players' legacies, especially when they pass," said Hughson. "They make such an impact on our program for the short amount of time they're here. Even though I didn't have the privilege of meeting him, just hearing stories about him and what he did, it really inspires me to do the same. He makes me want to become a better person and give back because the game was so much bigger than himself. 

"I think that's really important for us athletes to think about when we come into university is that we come here for school and hockey, but it's so much bigger than that. We're in a time where we're learning about life and where we want to go. I think Nakehko really advocated for that."