In the history of the NHL, only about 80 players have been of indigenous heritage. That includes First Nations peoples, Métis and Inuit groups in Canada.
Nailers forward Winston Day Chief isn't going to add to those NHL totals, but he's built a successful career for himself at the minor-league level and is one of the leaders on this Nailers team.
Day Chief, 31, is a member of the Blood Tribe, and grew up on the Blood 148 First Nations reserve in Alberta, Canada. It's the third most populous First Nations reserve in Canada, with about 12,000 people.
"I grew up on a ranch probably 10-15 minutes from a town, that's where the rink was," Day Chief explained to me this week. "There was usually just one team on the reserve, maybe two teams depending on how many players there were. We'd do a lot of traveling to other towns."
Day Chief played junior hockey in the Junior A British Columbia Hockey League, and played a year of college hockey at the University of Alaska-Anchorage and three years at the University of Lethbridge before making his professional debut with the Rapid City Rush of the CHL (later the ECHL) in South Dakota during Rapid City's 2012 playoff run.
Day Chief spent four seasons in Rapid City, eventually captaining the team in the 2015-16 season. He remains Rapid City's sixth all-time leading scorer, with 63 goals and 86 assists in 202 games.
Looking for a change, Day Chief took his talents to a pretty non-traditional hockey market for the 2016-17 season, playing for Budapest in the Erste Liga.
"It's definitely neat," Day Chief said of his time in Hungary. "How often do you get a chance to go overseas and live there for a bit? Just to see different cultures, seeing Budapest, such a nice city, it was pretty neat."
Day Chief returned to the ECHL in 2017-18 with the Cincinnati Cyclones, before signing with Wheeling this season. He's a much-needed veteran presence on such a young Nailers team.
"We're so young," said Day Chief. "This is my seventh year pro, and the majority of the guys, there's probably only about four or five guys who have played more than one year pro. They're all first-year. You have to fill in that void in a leadership role because everyone is so young."
Day Chief is more of a soft-spoken, lead-by-example type. In helping these young players get acclimated to the pro game, much of the work happens away from the rink.
"Once you become a pro, a lot of it is being away from the ice -- taking care of yourself, taking care of your body," Day Chief said. "Just making sure they have to stay on top of taking care of themselves."
Day Chief can still keep up with the kids on the team, too. Lately, he's been seeing time on a line with the youngest member of the Nailers, 20-year-old Renars Krastenbergs. Day Chief has been a strong playmaker for the Nailers this season, and one of the more prominent net-front presences. He's recorded eight goals and 13 assists in 36 games this season.
This season, Day Chief was named to the executive committee of the PHPA, the players association for the AHL and the ECHL. He's one of the five player representatives for the ECHL, and will attend the organization's summer meetings.
Day Chief strives to be a role model for First Nations kids as more get involved with hockey each year.
"I'm usually the only guy on the team that's First Nations," said Day Chief. "But I grew up with three or four guys that are also playing professionally, as well, that are from the same reserve. There's just more and more every year."
THE ROSTER MOVES
• The Nailers suffered a huge loss this week when Troy Josephs requested a release from his contract and signed with Storhamar in Norway. Josephs, originally a seventh-round pick of the Penguins in 2013, has been one of the most skilled, complete players to come through Wheeling in awhile, recording 21 goals and 18 assists in 32 games with the Nailers this season. He just could not find a spot with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“Ever since the organization drafted Troy in 2013, he has been nothing but an outstanding young man and a great representation of the Penguins,” said Bill Guerin. “We wish him the best of luck in the next stage of his professional career.”
Josephs played in one final game with the Nailers after his new Norwegian team announced his signing. He was one of the Nailers' strongest and most hard-working players of the game, even knowing that he would be leaving for Europe in just a few days. He could have quit or taken it easy, and he didn't.
• Wilkes-Barre acquired forward Trevor Yates from the Grand Rapids Griffins in exchange for future considerations. Yates was assigned directly to Wheeling.
• Forward Mike Fazio was injured on Dec. 31 and remains on injured reserve … defenseman Aaron Titcomb was injured on Feb. 5 and has not played since
• Defenseman Craig Skudalski was injured after blocking a shot on Jan. 26, and returned to the Nailers' lineup on Feb. 5. ... defenseman Brien Diffley played in all three games this week after being out since Jan. 5.
• Cedric Lacroix was suspended for the Feb. 10 game in Maine and fined an undisclosed amount for a charging incident on Feb. 9 in Worcester.
The Nailers were 1-1-2 this week. Please check out the Nailers' weekly recap for game details.
• Goals: Josephs, 21 in 32 games.
• Assists: Zac Lynch, 33 in 49 games.
• Points: Lynch, 47 in 49 games.
Alec Butcher - Zac Lynch - Yushiroh Hirano
Troy Josephs - Trevor Yates - Michael Phillips
Renars Krastenbergs - Alex Rauter - Winston Day Chief
Josh Couturier - Danny Fick
Robbie Hall - Dane Birks
Brien Diffley - Johnny Austin
• After this week, the Nailers remain in last place in the six-team Central Division with a record of 21-21-5-1.
• The Nailers’ power play sits in fourth in the league at 21.9 percent, and the penalty kill is 21st in the league at 80.7 percent. The Nailers have the second-most power play goals (46) and the most shorthanded goals (14) in the league this season.
• The Nailers’ have a busy week ahead. They’ll host the Reading Royals (21-19-3-5) on Wednesday, and have three games in three days over the weekend. They’ll host the Brampton Beast (25-20-3-1) on Friday and Saturday, and visit the Fort Wayne Komets (23-17-2-4) on Sunday.
GOALS OF THE WEEK
Michael Phillips scored twice in Worcester. The first was the Nailers' league-leading 14th shorthanded goal of the year:
Yushiroh Hirano showed off his backhand:
Phillips scored again in Maine. Josephs (wearing No. 10) earned an assist in his final game as a Nailer, after he had already agreed to sign with his new team. It was a great effort by him to set up the play, and nice finish by Phillips:
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