Kanehsata’kehró:non RJ Cross has been playing hockey since he was six years old.
“Hockey runs in the family. His dad played it all the time. My brothers, my father all played hockey,” said Cross’s mother, Valerie Bonspille.
Cross is new to the U18 Kahnawake Blackhawks this year, but based on his synergy with the team, you wouldn’t know it. This past Saturday, the Blackhawks pummeled the Soulanges Seigneurs 8-2, with Cross scoring three of those goals.
“It was a good feeling being able to help my team get another win,” said Cross.
He previously played for the Panthers in Lake of Two Mountains, but for this season he decided to switch to the Blackhawks.
“It makes me proud, you know, really makes me proud that he’s doing well in the sport, and he loves it,” said Bonspille, who makes sure that, no matter the weather, her son makes it to every practice, training session, and game despite the long drive from Kanesatake.
“I’m happy playing for the Kahnawake Blackhawks. It’s given me a chance to meet a lot of my family that live in Kahnawake, like my cousins, and also I’ve made a lot of new friends,” said the 16-year-old forward.
“This is actually the first time he’s playing for a Native team,” said Bonspille.
On what it’s like playing with other Indigenous players, Cross said, “It’s a good feeling being amongst my bros.”
“I really like the fact that they accepted [Cross] like he’s always been there,” said Bonspille, adding that the coaching staff has gone above and beyond to help the players make improvements, always factoring in their input.
“[Cross] has good puck control. He’s got a good hockey IQ. He comes, enters his own, he lays a play, he looks around, he sees an option, and he’ll give it,” said head coach Aennase Horne.
Teha Albany, Stone McGregor, and Roan Kirby also scored during the January 28 match-up.
“Last game was just an amazing game,” said Horne. He credits the team’s success to their ability to maintain possession of the puck, as well their positive attitude.
“Everybody listens. Nobody fights, nobody argues on the bench,” said Horne.
Horne explained he’d been seeing the game as a test for how the Blackhawks might fare in the playoffs. “[The Seigneurs] were a strong team. They were 7-1-1 before that game. They had 66 goals for and 32 goals against,” said the head coach.
Now, with that win under the Blackhawks’ belt, they head into the playoffs 9-3, and Horne feels optimistic.
“Everybody made big improvements throughout the year. Things are only gonna keep getting better,” he said.
“I just want our team to do well and I just want to see everybody happy by getting better as well,” said Horne.