Reggie Leach might be known for his record-setting hockey career, but on Monday the Stanley Cup winner received an honorary doctorate for the work he’s done since retiring from the game.
Leach – who was born in Riverton, Man., and earned the "Riverton Rifle" name for having one of the hardest shots in the league’s history – received a doctor of laws degree at the spring convocation of Brock University in St. Catharine's, Ont., for his work with Indigenous youth.
"It makes my heart happy because I’m being recognized for the work that I love to do," said Leach, who was also named to the Order of Manitoba in 2016.
Leach, who is Ojibwe and a member of Berens River First Nation, said he encourages the kids he works with to take charge of their own lives — a message he brought to his convocation address.
"I want every young person to be successful," Leach said. "Your life is just starting. It’s up to you to decide what you want your life to be. Whatever choices you make, you own those choices, good or bad."
Leach played on the Philadelphia Flyers in the late 1970s, and helped the team win its second-straight Stanley Cup in 1975. A year later, he earned playoff MVP when he set the team’s all-time scoring record of 61 goals in a single season.
Even today, Leach said he hasn’t forgotten the support he got from his 500-resident hometown.
"I grew up in a First Nations family among a community of people from all different nations, but they all supported me," he said. "I still support the town today because of what they did for me."
Brock University chancellor Shirley Cheechoo, who presented the degree, said Leach's story reminds her of her own students' potential.
"When a person starts at a very young age like he did, it’s overwhelming to know that a child can progress like that," said Cheechoo. "He represents that."