‘Smudge the Blades’ hockey line aims to celebrate First Nation’s hockey culture and give back to the community

The clothing line was created by a former Prince Albert hockey player from Sturgeon Lake First Nation

Harlan Kingfisher launched his clothing line in the summer (Submitted photo)

Harlan Kingfisher grew up playing hockey on a pond outside his house using a net made of 2x4s and chicken wire.

Kingfisher grew up on Sturgeon Lake First Nation with his grandparents, around 50 kilometres north of Prince Albert. He played house league in Prince Albert but said sometimes it was tough to make it to practice.

As he got older, his dad was able to get him into a higher-level of hockey. He played minor AA hockey in the city before going on to play with Waywayseecappo Wolverines in the MJHL (Manitoba Junior Hockey League). He was later traded to the OCN Blizzard. He even got to travel to Europe to play on Team Canada with other Indigenous hockey players.

His hockey journey carried him through to university before meeting his wife and starting a family.

With little to no games and tournaments going on due to the pandemic, Kingfisher decided to bring an idea to life that he’s had for a while.

That idea is ‘Smudge the Blades’, a hockey clothing line that displays First Nations sayings and Cree syllabics. The idea was inspired by Kingfisher’s experience playing hockey and attending tournaments, like the annual Senators Cup hosted by the Prince Albert Grand Council.

“(The tournaments) attract a lot of people and everyone’s proud to show up, (and) cheer for your band, cheer for your team, so it’s a really nice to see people that you haven’t seen in a while. It’s worth more than hockey. It’s a cultural celebration, everyone loves going to these and getting together,” said Kingfisher.

Most of the sayings are common to the First Nations hockey community, such as ‘First Nations Hockey Sensation’, or ‘Ever Sick Dangles’ but Kingfisher gets ideas from other sources too.

He recently spoke to Clarence Iron, who in March 2019 called a NHL game in Plains Cree. Iron, from Pinehouse, Sask., came up with a design idea to translate the iconic phrase of ‘he shoots, he scores’ to Cree. The sweater was launched on Tuesday night and is available for pre-sale.

“I’m trying to open it up to everybody, if you’re non-aboriginal it’s really cool to people purchasing because it’s for everybody. It’s not just for the native community.”

Kingfisher said he has people reaching out to him often with design ideas and admits he has between 50 to 100 designs in the works.

Another product features the name ‘Smudge the Blades’ in cree syllabics. The product has been a top seller and Kingfisher says it’s also created conversation.

“It’s something to keep our language alive.”

He got help from Indigenous-owned apparel line, Stay Rooted in creating this design and using Cree syllabics.

When Kingfisher was growing up and playing hockey he would smudge the blades of his skates and hockey stick for both protection and a “little bit of luck.” This practice is what inspired the name for the clothing line. Since sharing his story, Kingfisher has heard from other hockey players who do the same.

Kingfisher also works as a power engineer in Alberta with a work schedule consisting of five days working and five days off. This allows him time to work on designs and other company business.

When he first launched the company in the summer, Kingfisher had help from a woman in Sherwood Park with production. He’s since partnered with Snipe and Celly Pro Shop in Flying Dust First Nation who take care of production.

“They are a First Nations-owned company so working together, supporting each other has been amazing.”

The clothing is available at Snipe and Celly Pro Shop, and online. Kingfisher has been contacting sports stores across the country to carry the clothing.

He’s contacted a few stores in Prince Albert to get his clothing on the shelves but hasn’t had any luck yet.

“The Prince Albert support has been amazing, I’m from there and I’m seeing old hockey players I played hockey with in my younger years purchasing my gear which is really awesome to see and so if I can get a store in Prince Albert I think it would just do amazing there.”

Giving back to the community

In addition to having his clothing sold in stores across the country, another goal of Kingfisher’s is to give back to the community.

While the cost of playing hockey depends on the league, a 2011-2012 Hockey Canada survey found that the average cost of enrolment is $1,200 for registration and ice time. This doesn’t include the cost equipment, or other fees that come along with travelling for games or tournaments.

Kingfisher acknowledges that hockey is an expensive sport, which is why he wants to support youth in the First Nations community to make sure they can play.

“Growing up on a reserve, I did grow up with a lot of kids that just couldn’t play because the money wasn’t there from the band or their parents.”

Proceeds from Smudge the Blades has gone back into the community. Kingfisher purchased hockey jerseys for the Indigenous Hockey Academy in Edmonton, which his son attends. He’s called other reserves seeing if they need any support too. Recently, he covered registration fees for three players in Beardy’s & Okemasis Cree Nation.

He’s also had parents reach out to him to ask for help paying for hockey equipment and put credit down at local sports stores to help families with costs. He’s encouraging people to message or email Smudge the Blades if they need any help.

“I want people to know we are here (and) we are available to help”