On Saturday night, the Rush held Dances With Wolves Night honoring Native American Heritage, an evening that featured a pregame performance from the Showtime Singers, a collaborative group of singers and song makers from throughout Indian Country, specialty jerseys designed in conjunction with local Native American leaders, a Native American song and dance performance at the first intermission, an appearance from Academy Award nominated actor Graham Greene, and the return of former Rush captain Winston Day Chief.
Day Chief played four plus seasons for the Rush from 2012-2016 and was Rapid City’s captain during the 2015-16 season. Over his time with the Rush he appeared in 202 games, had 63 goals and 86 assists and was a fan-favorite due to his fiery, passionate playing-style. It was evident as he walked the concourse, signed autographs and spoke with fans on Saturday that he is still adored by the Rush fan base.
“It’s definitely exciting and good to be back in Rush nation here,” said Day Chief. “A good experience to be able to come back and say hi to everyone.”
Day Chief made the drive down from Canada, where he lives in southern Alberta and is currently working with his Education degree. He brought his wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and two children along for the weekend. On Friday, he, his family and Greene met with fans at Prairie Edge in downtown Rapid City, the presenting sponsor of Dances With Wolves Night. They spoke with the team after morning skate on Saturday, participated in a meet-and-greet prior to the game and dropped the ceremonial puck to a large ovation from a season-high 4,237 fans on hand for the game.
“We spent so much time here, my wife and I both made a lot of friendships here,” said Day Chief. “It’s just good to get back and talk with those friendly faces and reacquaint ourselves with the friends that we made here.”
Day Chief’s children had never visited Rapid City before, and he and his family took them to Bear Country USA and the Reptile Gardens Animal Park, all while showing them around a town that was the birthplace of his professional hockey career.
“I was able to show them some pictures of me up in the arena,” said Day Chief with a laugh. “I don’t know if they quite believe [that I played pro hockey here] yet.”
Over his four plus seasons in Rapid City, Day Chief, who is First Nations, an Indigenous people of Canada, made a special connection with the large Native American population in town. Never one to seek out the spotlight, Day Chief still seems uncomfortable with the attention it brings.
“You don’t really seek that out in terms of the connection you make with indigenous people anywhere,” said Day Chief. “But any time you can make a good example you take a chance and you do it.”
While many fans were excited to see Day Chief, in many ways he became a fan around his co-headliner Greene; making a point to get a photo together after the pair finished greeting with fans and signing autographs.
“For me that’s been awesome,” said Day Chief when asked about spending time with Greene. “I grew up watching his movies and I idolize him. So it’s definitely a big treat for me to spend the last couple of days with him. He’s an awesome gentleman and it’s been a real treat.”
But more than anything, the treat for Day Chief was getting the chance to visit Rapid City again, and to be back in the arena where he starred, in front of the crowd that had always embraced him.
“[My favorite memories are] just being at the games,” said Day Chief. “When we were playing they always packed the arena here and it was always a good, exciting, wild experience.”