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The Greatest Indigenous-Canadian Athletes Day 1: Reggie Leach

Zach Friedman

For the week of February 1st through 6th, Radio Western is celebrating Indigenous Awareness Week. In honour of this event, over the next six days, the sports department will bring six stories of some of the greatest Indigenous-Canadian athletes, starting, with hockey legend Reggie Leach.

Reggie Leach grew up in Riverton, Manitoba and is of Ojibwe descent. From a very young age, it was clear that Reggie showed tremendous talent playing hockey. When Leach was just fourteen years old, he began playing for Riverton’s senior team and propelled him to a very successful junior hockey career. Beginning his career in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League with the Flin Flan Bombers in 1966, Leach made an immediate impact scoring 67 goals and totalling 113 points in just 45 games. Behind Leach’s play, as well as hockey legend Bobby Clarke’s, the Bombers went on to win the MJHL championship and advanced to Canada’s National Junior Championship, The Memorial Cup, but lost in the quarterfinals to the Port Arthur Marrs.

Leach’s junior hockey career concluded in 1970. By the end of his time with the Bombers, Leach racked up 401 points in just 183 games and set the league record for goals in a season with 87 in 1968.

Leach was drafted into the NHL by the Boston Bruins who used the 3rd overall pick to acquire him. Leach had a lacklustre start to his career getting traded from the Bruins after his first two seasons to the California Golden Seals, only to be traded by the Seals in 1974 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Joining the Flyers and reuniting with his Flin Flan Bombers teammate Bobby Clarke, Leach revived his career getting 78 points in 80 games his first season with the Flyers. That same season the Flyers went on to win the Stanley Cup. Things only got better for Leach as the next season he went on to lead the NHL in goals scored with 61. Leach is one of only twenty players to reach 60 goals in a single season, and the only Indigenous player to reach that mark. In the playoffs, Leach’s prolific goalscoring continued scoring 19 goals in 16 games, an NHL record. He also went on to win the Conn Smyth Award that same season as the playoff’s MVP, becoming one of only five players to win the award as a member of the losing team in the Stanley Cup Final.

Leach retired from the NHL in 1983, playing 934 games, finishing his career with 381 goals and 285 assists for a total of 666 points.

For his achievements and successes over his career, Leach has received several awards including, his inductions to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame and Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 and 1997, respectively. He was awarded the Order of Manitoba in 2016 and later the Order of Canada in 2019. Despite multiple petitions and efforts made by many, Leach has yet to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Leach resides now at Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation in Manitoulin, Ontario. He has two children; both have represented Canada at the national level. His son Jamie followed in his father’s footsteps playing hockey, competing for Canada in the World Junior Championship in 1989. His daughter, Brandie, played lacrosse for the Women’s national team at the World Cup in 1993.

In 2006 Leach, along with his son Jamie, founded the Shoot to Score Hockey School, running hockey camps across Canada. Through his hockey school, Leach works with many First Nation communities inspiring the next generation of athletes.