Thursday, July 11, 2024

Life, hockey, and training learned

Pain, defeat, victory

On a wintry weather morning in Saskatoon, Craig McCallum fidgets with hands that have gripped a thousand hockey sticks and fired one million pucks. He’s telling a story, and words roll without problems. A tradition is misplaced and then observed. A game is cherished, then hated, then loved. That became one of my favorite things, and I smelled the ice. I loved the complete recreation. Craig McCallum When he was a child, enthralled via hockey, McCallum — whose destiny covered careers in each the Western Hockey League and with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies — might flop onto the ice and inhale.


You get truly near and smell the ice,” McCallum says. “That turned into one of my favorite matters: smelling the ice. I loved the complete sport.” Years later, after little Craig had grown to become too large when the pleasure of hockey was stripped away, he got a positive summer night that modified his lifestyle. McCallum changed into 17 years vintage, locked within the grip of a drugged, alcoholic stupor, unable to move his limbs, and deserted with the aid of friends. He’d quit a soon-as-promising hockey profession some months earlier, and on this night time, McCallum became terrified.

Growing up in reserve, I thought ingesting and doing capsules turned into something you probably did at a certain age,” he recalls. “That’s simply how it became. Everybody did it. And I knew that at some point, I was going to do it, too. I had no concept it becomes a preference; I had no idea you didn’t need to try this stuff. I didn’t have position fashions to appear up to those who didn’t; I never found out it became a desire. I became destined to go down that path sooner or later.”

There’s dysfunction at the Canoe Lake Cree Nation, where McCallum spent plenty of his kids; however, there’s also splendor. He got easy and performed three WHL seasons after that horrible nighttime, five greater with the Huskies. It took a network attempt to get him there. His circle of relatives didn’t have lots of cash. Hockey is a highly-priced sport while you’re a promising up-and-comer, which McCallum turned into for the duration of his early and mid-teens. My chief and council at the time helped my dad and mom with gas cash, rooms, and registration costs,” he says. “There have been aunts and uncles who might assist with the device. The shops in Canoe Lake … there were times we have been among cheques and needed money to get to a match, and they’d give us a mortgage. It by no means stopped.

One of my grandma’s matters to inform me is in no way to forget who you are and where you return from. I consider that all the time. Without those humans in my network, without their help … people could provide their money, contribute to fundraisers, and offer to pressure me. Then, someday, McCallum landed his dream spot on a WHL roster. The reserve child was never far removed from the WHL child.

You could almost rely (First Nations WHL hockey players) on the one hand,” says McCallum, now 28. “It changed into exciting: When I’d play in opposition to those people, we shared an unspoken bond. We’d speak to each other, and there was a degree of appreciation because we knew each person’s battle. We had this shared revel in breaking into the league, playing inside the company, and staying within the company as a First Nations person.

Indigenous kids play plenty of sports on the grassroots tiers; thank you for the component to charitable efforts that make certain sticks, bats, and gloves are not unusual formative years revel in. But the people who work with Indigenous teens in the sports realm say there’s a hassle, and it’s a huge one: A large crack separates the grassroots and elite ranges, and that’s where they fall, tumbling en masse, leaving just a handful of survivors.

Where we lose Indigenous athletes is while it receives to that higher degree,” says Thunderchild First Nation member Michael Linklater, one of the world’s better 3-on-3 basketball players and a former standout on the university stage with the Saskatchewan Huskies. “It’s not because of the talent. The skills are there. McCallum’s tale is instructive: It includes several inner and external obstacles that block many Indigenous youngsters.

Does Cultural divide? Racism, both diffused and overt? He killed them.

Drugs and booze? They almost wrecked him until he located a special path.

Money? He recollects a day at a tournament when his father ordered him a complete and nourishing meal before a sport, and he got soup and coffee for himself. McCallum questioned that and later found out the reality: there wasn’t sufficient cash for both of them to have a meal. McCallum’s gratitude to his parents knows no bounds. He busted through those choke points simultaneously as occasions spun in surprising instructions. Think of it: Eight combined seasons of foremost junior and college hockey.

My lifestyles,” he says, “have been kind of a sequence of fortunate occasions.

Hockey is a joy to McCallum — however, the dating’s been rocky.

One of his earliest memories is begging his mother to take him skating and having different things. So he snuck out the door and traveled down the street on his little skates. He recalls the dark and the blowing snow. You should find little patches where you may come as a minimum glide, which was the excellent global issue,” he says. McCallum was given a late beginning in competitive hockey. He first performed formally at age eight, after shifting from Meadow Lake to North Battleford. He broke his mother down, he says, with the aid of consistent begging. She involved, he’d get hurt.

He wasn’t superb. He recollects scoring simply one purpose that completes the first season.
After his Grade 3 year, McCallum moved to his reserve at Canoe Lake. There, he performed with kids on his stage and loved everyday access to the rink. He’d arrive after faculty, his mom could bring his supper, and he’d skate till the rink closed for the night. He’d watch the older children attempt to do the matters they did, and he got higher, higher, better.

By the time he reached the bantam degree, it had become. He needed to leave domestic if he would hold his trajectory. The transportation fees have been prohibitive, so he moved more than an hour away to Meadow Lake, where he lived with Dwight King’s hockey-loving family. King, who later won Stanley Cups, performed with McCallum. King’s older brother D.J. Turned into within the WHL at the time and would later play in the NHL.

McCallum is a thinker, adept at watching and studying, and he did that in this household, too: Study, absorb, have a look at. (Dwight King) took us all alongside on the journey,” McCallum says. “Any information he was given about education applications or what have you ever, he’d percentage it with us, so we ought to get right of entry to it, too.”

I don’t want to do this. Lethbridge selected McCallum within the seventh spherical of the 2004 WHL bantam draft, and he went to North Battleford for midget hockey. He encountered “type, loving and generous humans there,” however, it wasn’t an amazing region for him to be. He struggled with the cultural divide.

His community was struggling with drunk riding crashes, suicides, and elders passing on. In First Nations communities, the circle of relatives ties increase an extended manner and bring cultural importance. He’d attempt to get domestic for funerals of reserve individuals he seemed near family even supposing, to an outsider, they appeared extra like distant relations. He’d omit practices and games while gambling in a culture he didn’t understand.

And I drank every night time, from my birthday to Jan. 28, tried to get as under the influence of alcohol as I may want to. I was calling in sick to high school, skipping exercise because I changed into hungover. Craig McCallum, It’s simply how it’s miles in our communities; we’ve closer ties to each other,” he says. “By the cease, I changed into scared to say I needed to move home to a funeral.” He says some gamers used racial slurs in the locker room — directed now not at him, but at Indigenous humans out of doors of the crew circle. He changed into a teen, searching for himself. It hurt him, but he didn’t know how to cope.

By his 2nd year, tablets and alcohol — which he’d first indulged in at thirteen — invaded his lifestyle with storm-force winds. Hockey wasn’t amusing. He turned into depressing. He drank, drank, drank. He didn’t need to rejoin the team after the Christmas smash. However, his mother and father stated he needed to spend money they didn’t have on his hockey hobbies.


On Jan. 11, he was given some birthday cash.

It became all I requested for,” he says. “And I drank each night time, from my birthday to Jan. 28, tried to get as drunk as I may want to. I was calling in ill to high school, skipping practice because I became hungover. The handiest motive I stopped at the twenty-eighth is I ran out of money. (Drinking) was all I desired to do.

We completed the 12 months, and after it was finished, I said, ‘I give up; I’m completed. I don’t need to play this recreation anymore. I don’t want to try this.'” McCallum got an activity at a gas station, running seven days on and seven days off. He’d make $700 at a shot and spend his off-week drinking up that profit. Then, one lousy July night, the fork in the street, that miserable existence destroyed and modified him. He was out with pals, drinking and smoking weed, and at one factor, they went to a residence for more booze.

“I sat down on the steps, and (a pal) changed into in and out, perhaps two minutes,” he says. “I attempted to rise, and I can’t move. My body shut down because of the mixture of alcohol and tablets. But due to the medication, my mind becomes wide awake. I become very, very conscious. My buddies, who were also very under alcohol and excessively, attempted to raise me. However, I changed into a useless weight. They just left me.

“I had no idea where I was and what took place with my body. I started to scare myself. I’d try to rise and move, but lifting my arm to get onto the railing becomes impossible. Because I became wide conscious, I’d begin to assume matters, like what if I turned into behind the wheel of a car while my body shut down? What if there had been passengers in the car with me? What if I hit every other vehicle with harmless people? What if, God forbid, somebody desired to take benefit of me right now? What if any person wanted to hurt me?

I thought about all these items, and it, in reality, commenced to scare me. I tried more difficult to rise, to get out of there so I could cross domestic. I considered attempting so difficult that it harmed me, and I commenced to cry because I couldn’t carry myself. I prayed. I informed the Creator, ‘Just help me get through this night safe, and I’ll never position myself in a state of affairs like this again.’ Shortly after that, I reached out. I woke up inside the house, on the couch. I looked around; humans were having breakfast at the desk like I wasn’t there. I got up, didn’t say a phrase, walked out the door, and walked home. I began reviewing the entirety again and remembered the promise I made to myself and the Creator. Ever given that, then, I’ve by no means put myself in that state of affairs. I haven’t drunk; I haven’t carried out pills.

At that point, the whole lot else in my lifestyle commenced turning around. I looked after my frame bodily, not setting these toxic things into it, and other regions of my existence commenced balancing out. I started to have the ones lucky events.” McCallum still didn’t need to play hockey. However, a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League coach scolded him, telling him he wasted talent.


“He stated it changed into a slap in the face to everyone who just wanted to make the WHL or the SJHL,” McCallum says. “There are people who try for those things, and there I was, turning it down simply because I felt like it.

“I began to reflect consideration on the information. How have you usually heard, ‘Oh, this character may want to have made it here; this individual changed into so exact? However, they got into pills or alcohol or were in love.’ I think about all of the human beings I’ve heard that approximately in my life — humans from my network, human beings from the north. It resonated with me and made me mad because he turned into proper.”

Back on the right track

The season rolled around. McCallum played one last season of midget AAA hockey in Beardy’s, a First Nations-run crew where he located his comfort level. He led the league in scoring with eighty-five factors in forty-two video games. Most of the group turned into Indigenous, such as a handful from his personal network. He became living easy. He was given to questioning and learning about his subculture, which was partly stripped away through his family’s history inside the residential schools. He knew to be proud. It changed into a fantastic season, on and staled the ice. Lethbridge had dropped his WHL rights the year before, even as he spiraled out of control, and now the Edmonton Oil Kings picked him up. He made the Oil Kings in 2007, spent two seasons there, then moved directly to the Prince Albert Raiders for his 20-year-vintage campaign.

He recollects one openly racist incident of notice during his 3 WHL seasons in Edmonton. I grabbed a roll of tape,” McCallum remembers, “and (a crew veteran) told me to get my fingers off that dirty Indian. It broke me. My notion (that stuff) changed over. At that level, and after my interactions with that group, a concept changed — I wouldn’t experience that anymore inside my dressing room. But nope. That’s now not the way it’s far. McCallum told a trusted veteran what had occurred, and the Oil Kings treated the matter.

He became overwhelmed two seasons later after they traded him to Prince Albert on the cusp of his 20-year-vintage marketing campaign. I grabbed a roll of tape . . . And (a team veteran) tells me to get my palms off that, you dirty Indian. It broke me. My idea (that stuff) became over. Craig McCallum recollects making the somber pressure from Edmonton to Prince Albert, hating every kilometer, and presenting at a Tim Hortons in North Battleford. He ordered an espresso and muffin, got to the window, and turned to inform the humans in the front had paid for his order. It was a small moment, a tiny piece of kindness, but it modified his outlook. Today, he’ll sometimes pay for the next character’s order, understanding what it would imply to anyone having an awful day.

That one act made him think about the positives: No different WHL crew changed in the direction of his home network, and his mother and father, pals, and circle of relatives should watch domestic video games. From there, his attitude changed. He loved the team and the town because it outscored a profession-first-class 27 goals and 72 points in 72 games, thriving the whole time. It becomes one of the U of S Huskies as a scholar and an athlete. The first-rate experience of his hockey life: He played on national-caliber groups and traveled to Spain for the 2015 FISU Games. He loved his research and the men he agreed with.

The players were all educated, and there has been a certain recognition within that dressing room toward me and who I turned into as a First Nations person,” he says. “They understood what it intended to be First Nations and the dynamics. It’s like a brotherhood, extra like a circle of relatives, in a more potent experience of the phrase than I’ve felt with any team. People usually say your teammates are your circle of relatives for the following year, but I’ve never felt that. Getting to the Huskies didn’t count on how small, tall, or color you were. We were all equal there.

Race and culture problems apart, McCallum stresses that many stuff he encountered isn’t confined to Indigenous human beings. Many families don’t have the cash to position their kids into excessive-level hockey. Other youngsters conflict with substance abuse. But as Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand notes, “In First Nations, we’ve had it rough for a while. McCallum hurdled the crack wherein others have fallen and moved toward his tradition. He pauses while asking what he’d tell a young Indigenous child these days looking to move into the elite-stage game. Cultural boundaries and painting perspectives conflict while you’re no longer in surroundings constructed around information and looking to study,” he says.

There will be people obtainable who don’t apprehend who you are, and it’s approach to be First Nations. But that’s OK. Push through it. Speaking to any individual instead of internalizing that and letting it eat at you. Talk to family, pals, and humans you appreciate. Ask them to help you cope with it. Lean on them. You don’t have to go through it alone. Once I commenced researching that, the whole thing got better and higher over the years.” Today, McCallum is an advertising expert at Al Anderson’s Source for Sports in Saskatoon and performs senior hockey.

He played AAA hockey; he played in the WHL. He played at the college degree. Those are the sorts of men who make a difference. Mark Arcand, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief
Arcand, the Saskatoon Tribal Council chief, says McCallum’s final results are a high-quality blueprint for aspiring Indigenous athletes. He played AAA hockey, he performed in the WHL, he performed on the college stage,” Arcand says. “Those are the sorts of guys who make a difference. Did he make it to the professionals? No. But he’s content material with what he’s got proper now. He’s satisfied. And that’s appropriate. He’s got an amazing job, paying his payments, and no longer counting on the machine. He’s taking care of himself, and that’s what we want for humans.”

McCallum’s scary, drugged-up night as a 17-12 months vintage is each year and far away. It occurred a long time in the past but occupied a crucial location in his story. He won’t forget it, just like he overlooked what he did to upward thrust above all of it. The rewards, the things I got to look and do due to hockey … I was given to drag out those investments I made in myself,” he says. “I performed hockey for my u. S. A. In Spain. I got schooling. I played in some countrywide championships. I completed all over Western Canada, the Northwest United States, and Canada because of hockey. You could do anything if you’re willing to put in the work. I’m sincerely content with where my existence is at and the whole thing I’m doing.

Jenna D. Norton
Jenna D. Norton
Creator. Amateur thinker. Hipster-friendly reader. Award-winning internet fanatic. Zombie practitioner. Web ninja. Coffee aficionado. Spent childhood investing in frisbees for the government. Gifted in exporting race cars in Orlando, FL. Had a brief career short selling psoriasis in Ohio. Earned praise for getting my feet wet with human growth hormone in Minneapolis, MN. Spent several years creating marketing channels for banjos for farmers. Spent 2002-2010 merchandising karma for no pay.

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