Indigenous hockey player from Winnipeg to join Team Canada for U18 World Hockey Championship

An Indigenous hockey player from Winnipeg will don the Team Canada jersey at the Under-18 World Hockey Championship later this month.

Conner Roulette, a 17-year-old forward with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, was in his room doing some school work when he got the call.

“It feels great,” said Roulette, who admits it was unexpected because there was uncertainty the tournament would go on due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As soon as I was [off the phone], I texted my mom and my dad to tell them that … I’m just really looking forward to getting out there and representing our country.”

The International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Hockey Championship is being held in Frisco, Texas, a city just north of Dallas. Puck-drop is April 26.

The tournament will be the second time Roulette will represent the country on the international hockey stage. In 2019, he competed for one of three Canadian teams at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge in Medicine Hat, Alta.

Two other Winnipeggers were also selected to the team: defenceman Carson Lambos and goalie Tyler Brennan.

Last season, Roulette scored 39 points in 54 games for the Thunderbirds. Through the first 10 games of the 2020-21 WHL season — the start of which was continually delayed due to the pandemic — he has scored 12 points.

Yet, the 17-year-old does not look at making Team Canada as a reward.

“I just take it as a pride and honour, not quite a reward; just something like a next step on making it to the next level,” Roulette said. 

Roulette relishes being role model

Roulette’s father often tells the story that his son cried when Team Canada, which had stars such as Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, lost to the United States in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“I was crying because all your favourite players come together for one big tournament, and everybody around the world is watching, and it just inspires those little kids,” said Roulette.

In the first 10 games of the 2020-21 season, Roulette has scored six goals and handed out six assists. (Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds)

“I was just one of those little kids that always dreamt of one day being able to wear that logo … and I’m really fortunate enough to have it, and hopefully inspire other kids.”

Aside from cracking the Team Canada roster, many kids may look up to Roulette for another reason: he is an elite Indigenous athlete playing in a sport that is played mostly by privileged white people.

Roulette’s mother is from Misipawistik Cree Nation — also called Grand Rapids First Nation — and his father is from Sandy Bay First Nation. Although he grew up in Winnipeg, Roulette is a member of his mother’s band.

“When you’re a young Indigenous kid and you see another Indigenous guy playing on Team Canada, obviously it’s really inspirational,” he said.

Roulette named Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals and Micheal Ferland of the Calgary Flames as NHL players with Indigenous heritage he looks up to.

As his hockey career progresses, he hopes to also be a role model for any Indigenous kids watching him.

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