Warning: This article contains references to residential schools and suicide that may be upsetting to some readers.
An indigenous former NHL player is inspiring high school students with his story of perseverance.
Jason Simon, a former NHL player from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Ontario, is passionate about speaking with youth about overcoming hardship and setting goals for the future.
On Thursday, March 9, he did just that with several senior classes at Eagle River Secondary in Sicamous.
During a presentation, Simon shared details about his life, starting with growing up on the Aamjiwnaang land between the St. Clair River and numerous corporate chemical plants, being bullied in his childhood and not wanting to follow in the footsteps of friends and family working at the plants.
When he was young, Simon’s grandmother took him to a hockey game – the Boston Bruins were playing the Montreal Canadiens.
Starstruck by the legendary Bobby Orr, Simon decided then that his dream was to one day be a player as good as Orr and to hoist the Stanley Cup.
His grandmother told him he could do anything he wanted in life if he put his mind to it.
Simon said those words carried him through serious hardships and continue to guide him today.
Simon later learned his grandparents were residential school survivors, and said he realized that is where his grandmother got her ‘anything is possible’ attitude.
Simon’s own parents were distant and his father an alcoholic, which he came to understand was the result of residential school generational trauma.
His difficult upbringing never kept Simon down. Working on a career in hockey and training to one day make the NHL, Simon listened to his grandparents to stay dedicated and disciplined with a desire to achieve, which he shared with the students as his recipe for success.
“I visualized what I wanted for my life and I was going to do it at all costs,” said Simon.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, how the hell do you expect to get there?”
Simon also dealt with ADHD, the hardship of his grandfather’s cancer diagnosis during his time in the Ontario Hockey League, and the news of the death of his sister on the day he signed with the New Jersey Devils on Sept. 23, 1989.
Unsure what he wanted to do in life, he stumbled through three seasons with the Devils then took time off.
Simon eventually realized his sister wouldn’t want him to give up what he’d worked so hard for.
So, he went back to training and within one year, he went from a minor league contract team in Michigan to the New York Islanders’ NHL roster.
After 19 years, Simon retired at age 38 and didn’t know what came next – another lesson for the students is to always have a backup plan, he said.
“My world had completely stopped, and I hadn’t prepared for what’s after hockey. I never had any goals or aspirations past the NHL.”
Simon said he had worked through depression, drugs and alcohol use, thoughts of suicide and, most recently, the death of his son, reminding the students of his grandmother’s words.
“I put my mind to working through things and working hard,” said Simon. “I’ve been severely knocked down but I chose to get up, dust myself off and carry on.”
Simon finished his presentation by handing out hockey cards he only recently received after a 30 year wait, as he was one of eight Indigenous players without an official card from their time in the NHL.
He told students to let the card be a reminder to visualize what they want in life and that success is no accident.