St. Louis Blues centre Ryan O’Reilly has extended an NHL game invitation to a team of First Nations hockey players who were subjected to racist chants at a youth tournament last year.
The Ontario-born NHLer and his mother Bonnie O’Reilly were inspired to invite the team to Thursday’s game against the Ottawa Senators after she read about their experience at the tournament in May, 2018.
Video footage showed the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA being subjected to racist taunts from the opposing team and people in the stands at the Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA tournament.
Toward the end of the 43-minute video that emerged following the competition, someone in the stands can be heard yelling “Gang de sauvages” or “Gang of savages.”
The team comprises of First Nations hockey players aged 13-15 from Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
“It was very sad. It breaks my heart that anyone would treat children in that fashion,” Bonnie O’Reilly said in an interview with stlouisblues.com.
She said she had to do something to support the players.
“I think both me and my mom were upset about it. That’s not what the game is about,” added Ryan O’Reilly. “We say ‘hockey is for everyone,’ and that was just disgusting.”
The youth players are scheduled to attend the St. Louis Blues’ morning skate where they will meet Ryan O’Reilly and some of his teammates before going out for lunch with Bonnie and her husband Brian O’Reilly, then returning in the evening for the game.
Bonnie will be gifting the players T-shirts and helmet stickers from Players Against Hate, an organization working to raise awareness and prevent racism in youth sports.
Tommy Neeposh, the team manager who filmed the video, previously told CTV Montreal that the team was subject many racist remarks and gestures during the tournament.
“The war cries (were) the worst,” he said. “Telling our boys that you guys don’t belong, your team sucks, Native kids can’t play hockey, they can’t skate.”
Neeposh says the team spoke with both the referees and the host team, the Quebec Bulldogs, but nothing was done at the time to stop the taunting.