Zach Whitecloud made one of the most important decisions in his bathroom life. In March 2018, the then-college free agent had suitors across the NHL trying to get him off Bemidji State University. So the sophomore defenseman had been hunkering with agent Dean Grillo for a week to find his best match.
Eventually, after taking what he said was his “good time,” Whitecloud narrowed his list. When the final option was over, he sequestered himself in a bathroom searching for a message. He stared into the mirror for almost half an hour, saw the jersey of the Golden Knights, opened the door, and said one word to Grillo: Vegas.
The narrative has been published on its own. Whitecloud signed with the Knights, made his NHL debut on April 5, 2018, and two years later became a late-season lineup staple. His steady play in 16 games earned him a two-year extension in March.
At the same time, the deal was trivial and remarkable. There was no reason for the Knights not to extend such a promising rookie to $725,000 per season. Yet the term “promising” hasn’t accompanied Whitecloud’s hockey career.
He was never supposed to make it that far away. Yet it’s important to a lot of people that he did it.
“In college, I didn’t expect to play pro hockey,” said Whitecloud, 23. “In junior, I didn’t expect to play college. In Triple-A midget hockey, I didn’t expect to play junior. Every level that I kept jumping, I think it enabled me to play with a sense of freedom because I was never supposed to make it to the next level. In a sense, it instilled a mindset in me of ‘Play because you love it. If it doesn’t work out, then that’s fine. You did what you wanted to do. You kept playing hockey just because you loved it.’
“Obviously, it brought me here today.”
Whitecloud grew up in Brandon, Manitoba, but “town” was 30 miles west of the city.
That’s what Sioux Valley Dakota Nation calls a reserve of 1,028, according to the 2016 Canadian census. The father of Whitecloud, Tim, is 100% indigenous. His ancestors came from southern Minnesota to the region.
Zach Whitecloud frequently visited Sioux Valley as a child and stayed attached to the group. He was born to honor the culture and values of his country and to carry that legacy forward.