William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles former Dartmouth College goalie Devin Buffalo, who has become a motivational speaker to help shatter stereotypes and inspire Indigenous youth.
Devin Buffalo didn’t have a problem facing 100 mph shots as a goalie for Dartmouth College. Speaking before an audience was a different matter.
“Speaking to really smart students, I didn’t think I belonged or that I wasn’t that smart, so it created an anxiety every time,” Buffalo said. “If a class had a presentation, I didn’t take it. I protected myself from having to deal with public speaking in school.”
The 27-year-old former goalie has overcome his fear and has become a motivational speaker to help shatter negative myths and stereotypes about Indigenous people and inspire Indigenous youth and hockey players to pursue higher education.
“I want to promote that Indigenous people can do anything we want,” he said, “and for our dreams not be put in a box or changed by other people.”
Buffalo has been on a virtual speaking tour of Canadian schools, community organizations and minor hockey associations telling his story about how a Cree kid from Westaskiwin, Alberta, defied the odds and skeptics to play hockey at a prestigious Ivy League institution and enjoy a brief professional career.
“My whole goal is to tell Indigenous kids and athletes what I’ve gone through,” said Buffalo, who is a member of the Samson Cree Nation and lives in Edmonton. “I want to provide the tools that I’ve learned … You find out there’s racism in sports, racism in society but if you don’t have the tools, you don’t know how to respond to it.”
Buffalo tells audiences about a high school counselor who scoffed at him when he told her he wanted to attend Harvard University. He recalls when an opposing player at a youth hockey game told him during warmups he was “just another Indian.”
“I made a commitment there that the next time someone says, ‘You’re just another Indian’ it’s out of praise,” Buffalo said. “‘You’re Indigenous? That’s so awesome, You’re culture’s so cool, you’re so strong, so resilient.'”
Buffalo played junior hockey in Flin Flon, Manitoba, and Drumheller, Alberta, before moving on to Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 2014. There, he posted a 25-29-5 record in 62 games with 3.04 goals-against average, .901 save percentage and two shutouts from 2014-18.
He was nominated in his senior season for the Hobey Baker Award, presented annually to the player voted the best in NCAA Division I men’s hockey, was a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, received Dartmouth’s Phelan Award as his team’s MVP, and was named to the All-Ivy League second team.
Buffalo said he’s proud to be part of a growing group of Indigenous players who achieved success in college hockey and have embarked on professional careers.
“Me going to Dartmouth, Brady Keeper (Florida Panthers defenseman prospect) going to the University of Maine, Zach Whitecloud (Vegas Golden Knights defenseman) going to Bemidji State University, Brigette Lacquette (Canadian women’s national team) going to [University of] Minnesota Duluth, we have a whole wave in NCAA hockey. Now it’s a thing for young Indigenous players to aspire to.”
After Dartmouth, Buffalo played 22 games in the ECHL in 2018-19 for Greenville, Adirondack, Reading, Cincinnati and Wichita before he retired as a player.
“My biggest goal was to play in the NHL,” he said. “Obviously, I didn’t get to the NHL, but I believe in the quote that you shoot for the moon. If you miss, I think that education opened up the other opportunities for me that I’m very happy and proud about.”
Buffalo accepted a position with the Indigenous Sports Council of Alberta in January and helped launch its “At Home” Summer Fitness Challenge, a 10-week program to encourage physical activity with rinks, gyms and other facilities shuttered due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Last year, he founded Waniska Athletics, which handles his speaking engagements and will include an apparel line and operate hockey camps.
When Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions ease, Buffalo plans on conducting camps for Indigenous goalies with Roddy Ross, who plays for Regina of the Western Hockey League and was chosen by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round (No. 169) of the 2019 NHL Draft, and Jamond Cardinal, a goalie for the University of Alberta.
The aim is to inspire young Indigenous goalies and provide them with the tools to play high level hockey Buffalo said he wasn’t aware of until he got to college.
“I never knew what it meant to train as an elite athlete,” he said. “When I went to Dartmouth, I learned how to properly train, about warming up, taking care of your body after a practice or a game, and I was 21 learning that. So to bring that to Indigenous goalies at a young age so they can be, like, ‘Wow, so this is what it takes,’ help them.”
Buffalo is looking forward to going back to school to study law at the University of Alberta. He plans to use his degree “to serve the Indigenous community and do some good there.”