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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 28, 2002 - Issue 77


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No Reservation About His Net Skills

by Dave Eminian of the Peoria Journal Star
Alfie MichaudPEORIA, IL - The Peoria Rivermen had no reservations about bringing back goaltender Alfie Michaud when he decided to leave Europe last week.

They hope the 5-foot-10, 178-pounder from Selkirk, Manitoba, can pick up where he left off - a 3-0-1 record, 1.96 goals-against and .930 saves percentage - before he went to Finland in November.

Michaud is a bona fide NHL prospect, lost in the logjam of high-caliber goaltenders forced down into the class-AA ECHL after the International Hockey League folded.

And he's also believed to be the first full-blooded Native American to play for Peoria in its 21-year franchise history. Michaud, 26, says he's a full-blooded Ojibway Indian, a Canadian tribal member of the First Nations.

Michaud's mother grew up on a reservation. Her goaltender son experienced reservation life when he spent three years living on the Star Blanket First National reserve in Saskatchewan, while playing for the Lebret Eagles, a junior team owned by the reservation and stocked entirely with Native American players. He once wore a goaltender mask with tribal symbols on it, and plans to get a new mask soon that again includes those.

"A lot of people say there is no such thing as a full-blooded Native American anymore," said Michaud, whose parents were both Native Americans. "I don't know if that's true. I lived on a reservation, and I learned about the beautiful culture, the people. I've been in the sweat lodges, experienced the Sharing Circle, been to a lot of Pow Wows where we gather to sing, dance and pray."

Michaud is sensitive to the stereotype of these reservations. Research them on the Internet, and you'll find reports that many lack running water and sewage systems, don't have physicians on site.

"I've met a lot of great Native American people, and not every reservation is like the common depiction," Michaud said. "But for every good story you hear, it's 10 bad ones that get printed."

Michaud is a good Native American story. He's a role model within his culture, and has spoken often to school children on reserves. He says the culture makes it hard for kids to leave home, and isn't surprised to learn that only 18 Native Americans have made it to the NHL, the ultimate level for a game with roots traced to Canadian tribes 400 years ago.

"I've seen a lot of really great hockey players on the reserves," Michaud said. "But they don't leave home, or they don't stay away long."

The Ojibway sprawled from central Saskatchewan to southern Ontario a few hundred years ago. In those days, they were trappers, fishers, a peaceful culture. But when crossed, they had a reputation of roasting enemy captives.

Michaud, meanwhile, is more a nomad in his career.

He arrived at NCAA power Maine right after its scandal chased off many key players. Michaud had to play as a freshman, and took a beating with a cast of walk-ons around him.

But he battled to a 60-26-8 career record and led Maine to a national title in 1998-99, earning NCAA Tournament MVP honors after beating Boston College (semis) and New Hampshire (finals) in a pair of overtime games during which he stopped 81 of 84 shots.

"I was a fall-down goalie, a Felix Potvin clone, and idolized Patrick Roy as a kid and thought I could play the same way," Michaud said. "I learned to stand up, but I've moved back a little toward my old ways in the pros because the shooters force it, they're just so good. (Maine goalie guru) Grant Stanbrook is a very brilliant man. He taught me the stand-up style, and patience."

Michaud, 26, needs patience in today's job market. He played two NHL games for Vancouver in 1999-2000 against Phoenix and St. Louis, and through last season had played 109 games for IHL Kansas City and AHL Syracuse and Manitoba. With Manitoba last year, his four shutouts set single-season and career franchise records, and he knocked out AHL No. 1 seed Worcester from the playoffs.

But the Moose had both goaltending roster spots filled by Vancouver this year, and wanted Michaud to sign and go to ECHL Columbia.

"I didn't think it was in my best interests to sign with one AHL team and be limited (on call-up chances with other team)," Michaud said. "I understand it's a gamble. But why sign with Vancouver's farm team (Manitoba) when Vancouver didn't want me?"

So he signed with Peoria, for the same reason he selected Maine for his college career. The franchise has a winning tradition and high expectations.

He left in November for a chance with Tappara in Finland's top league. He played four games, posted an .838 saves percentage, and was irked when he was twice yanked from tie contests.

"That was a first for me, getting pulled in a tie game," Michaud said. "There was a lot of pressure on their management and coach to win, and I guess I wasn't their guy. Although I don't know how they could tell that after eight periods."

He was demoted to Div. I Ahmat, Finland's class-AAA league, which he tore up for a 1.18 goals-against and .960 saves percentage while going 4-0-1.

"There's 20-30 great goalies out there because there's not enough jobs," Michaud said. "I want to be one of the very few Native Americans to make it to the NHL. So I'm back here to get started."

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