The NHL isn’t exactly a league known for its diversity. Entering the 2018-19 season, just 33 minority players (out of 31 teams) made the opening game rosters according to the Color of Hockey.
Out of those teams, just one is led by a head coach from a minority background. That’s where Craig Berube of the St. Louis Blues comes in. The man who led the franchise to its first Stanley Cup Finals since 1970 is part Cree, meaning he’s partly of First Nation descent.
Let’s take a look at his background.
Craig Berube First Nation
Per SB Nation, Berube and former Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan made history in 2013 when the two faced off in the first game between two coaches from the First Nation. Berube led the Philadelphia Flyers at the time.
Nolan, who is in his second stint with the Sabres after replacing Ron Rolston, is of Ojibwe descent, while Berube, who replaced Peter Laviolette after just three games this season, is part Cree.
The Cree are a First Nations group that resides mostly in Canada and the Northern United States, such as Montana and Michigan. They have a population a little under 400,000 total.
According to the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society, Berube is specifically a Cree from Calahoo. The son of Ramona and Roger Berube talked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about how he gets his native roots from his grandmother.
“What you had to have back then was a Métis card,” Berube said of a certified ID card. “It’s a half-white, half-native type card Because, you know, I look white, and I’d go play in these hockey tournaments. They’d want to know if I had native in me. They’d check you out and stuff. Métis is what you call a person that is white and native.”
He garnered the nickname “Chief,” which is common for players with an indigenous peoples’ background. The achievement of their representation isn’t lost on him or Nolan.
“It’s huge,” Nolan told Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News at the time. “The significance of it is not really what it means to me, or Craig Berube, but what it means when you think of what our ancestors went through.”
Both were fired after the 2015 season, which brought minority representation down to zero. Berube was hired as an assistant for the Blues last season, and took over on an interim basis for Mike Yeo after a 7-9-3 start to the season.
Craig Berube Head Coaching Status
According to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, the interim tag is only a technicality after his success this season. Back in early May, he said that his only choice for head coach is Berube. A link to the clip can be found here.
According to Bleedin’ Blue, Armstrong has been blown away by Berube’s ability to give his players the guidance needed to win.
“I learned quite a bit working with Craig,” said Armstrong. “I think working in management, you look around and you read and you try to take things from other businesses outside of sport with Gen Z and Gen X and all that and you’re trying to understand what makes these younger players tick. In reality, what I learned from Craig is they’re hockey players. They want to be coached. They want to be treated honestly, respectfully and held accountable.”
“My vision was we were always trying to create something that really wasn’t necessary,” Armstrong continued. “These are hockey players and whether it was the 80’s, 90’s or today, they just want to be coached.”
Expect a contract to be official in the ensuing weeks after the Finals wraps up.