LAS VEGAS — Zach Whitecloud is taking the Stanley Cup back to his tribal roots.
Centuries of his Lakota Sioux ancestors would be proud.
The Vegas Golden Knights 26-year-old defenseman is the first of his Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup.
When it his turn to take the cup back home to Manitoba, Canada for his allotted 24 hours, he’ll return to Sioux Valley, the reservation of 1,000 where his improbable journey began in the oil-rich land around nearby Brandon, population 50,000.
“I just want the community to be able see it or touch or do whatever,” Whitecloud told The Sporting Tribune. When he showed up for a post-Stanley Cup signing appearance, he was greeted by a number of proud American Indians.
Taking the symbolic cup home “means the world to me,” he said. “I could go on forever about people who shaped me into what I am today. Means a lot.”
His stops will include a visit with someone special, his grandmother. “I’ll be able to take it home to my grandma who wasn’t able to come down for the Stanley Cup finals. I’ll be able to take it home to her, share a meal or just hang out with her.
“It’s going to be exciting,” he added. “She’s one of the ones who lugged me around to practices and skates and all those different things. It’s going to be super-exciting to share that with her and then to be with my buddies
who I grew up with and am still close to today.”
Also on his schedule: a side trip to Virden, population 3,000 “where I played my hockey,
a place that had a big impact on my life,” he said.
Whitecloud fans didn’t have to wait long to see hear his name when the Stanley Cup finals began. He became just the second defenseman in 22 years and the 11th in the modern era (since 1943-44) to score the game-winning goal in the opening game.
During Game 3, more than 100 of his friends, family and tribal leaders packed a community hall on the reservation to cheer on the 26-year-old standout.
Along with Whitecloud’s parents, Tim Whitecloud, a tribal leader, and Donna Cullen, they celebrated the hometown boy’s inspirational drive and a culture that energized him to reach unimaginable heights. His father was one of his coaches.
Undrafted in bantam competition and cut from several youth hockey teams, he was undrafted by any NHL teams, Whitecloud’s flashes of potential at Bemidja State caught the attention of the Golden Knights’ talent scouts. He signed with the Knights in 2018. By February 2020, he was with the parent team.
“He made it impossible to take him out,” said former Knights head coach Peter DeBoer.
Whitecloud’s Sioux heritage includes some of the greatest warriors in the history of the American West.
Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were famous for their leadership roles in the 1876 Battle of the Bighorn in southeastern Montana. It was also known as the Custer Massacre, after Civil War hero George Armstrong Custer and more than 250 of his 7th Cavalry
were killed when overwhelmed by a major encampment of Lakota and Cheyenne.
A’S BRIGHT SPOT
In a forgettable season, Oakland centerfielder Estuary Ruiz has been one of the A’s brightest prospects.
At the All-Star Game break, he leads the majors with 43 steals in 83 games. That surpassed the Oakland rookie record of 42 set by Mitchell Page in 1977.
Before being sidelined with an injury last week, he was on pace to steal 80 bases, the most since A’s Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson had 93 in 1988.
Acquired from Milwaukee in a three-team deal in December, Ruiz has been one of Oakland’s top hitters. His .257 batting average leads the A’s who have an MLB-worst 25-67 record at the break. He’s been Oakland’s most productive hitter, with a .380 average (30-for-79) with runners in scoring position, fourth best in the majors.
Henderson set the all-time record (post-1900) with 130 stolen bases in 1982, when he was 23 years old.
Henderson stole his 84th on July 11, the day before the All-Star Game break. He was caught stealing 23 times in the first half and a total of 43 times during the season. He reached 130 by stealing three in the next last game of the season, against Kansas City.
Ruiz is the first A’s player to steal 40 in a season since Coco Crisp, who had 49 in 2011.
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