Rabbit season open in Providence

by Kevin Boryczki and Adam Kaufman || AHL On The Beat Archive

When someone says the name Wacey Rabbit, the first thing that many people do is chuckle and say, “Shhh…Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting Wabbit” or “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.”

But it isn’t until you speak to Wacey and ask the question, “Where did you get that name?” that you find out the origin has nothing to do with Looney Tunes or Trix cereal.

Rabbit grew up in southern Canada on a reservation just outside of Alberta. According to Wacey, it is not uncommon for Native Americans to take the names of different things in nature, which was the case for Wacey and everyone else in his tribe.

At first, however, most people don’t realize that he is Native American. But that is directly related to how he got his name.

“My first name, Wacey, came from a professional bull rider,” said Rabbit. “He was the 1985 World Champion — Wacey Cathey. And Rabbit was my family name. It’s not a big thing but it is funny because bull riding was the popular thing to do for my tribe in the summer and then hockey in the winter.

“My middle name is Coleman and that actually came from a famous bareback rider named Mel Coleman.”

For people who don’t know that the name Wacey Rabbit is Native American, Wacey finds he is not taken too seriously rather often.

“I ordered a pizza earlier in the season and they weren’t going to take my order because they thought I was pranking them,” laughed Rabbit. “I’m proud of the name and it is a great conversation starter.”

Rabbit is one of only a few Native Americans to play hockey at the pro level. A friend of Rabbit’s, Robin Big Snake, spent last year and this season playing in the United Hockey League while getting in two games with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals last season. Both came from the same reservation.

Even though Rabbit was most often one of the smaller players on the ice growing up on the reservation, he was also one of the most talented, causing him to leave to play junior hockey for five seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades. While there, and serving as captain his last year, he tallied 80 goals and 186 points in 259 games before being drafted by the Boston Bruins as the 154th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

Now a pro, Rabbit has the chance to become a role model for many Native Americans who dream of someday becoming professional athletes.

“You have to be proud of where you come from and I definitely am,” said Rabbit. “I think by having such a unique name, without people seeing me or talking to me, they know I am Native American. People on the other reservations who are hockey fans will know just by hearing the name that I am Native American and hopefully I can set an example for others of us who someday dream of playing hockey in the States.”

In a few seasons, if not sooner, Rabbit may get a chance to be a star in the National Hockey League, which would make him one of few Native Americans to play at the highest level of their sport. If he does, you can only imagine that ESPN’s Chris Berman will find a few nicknames and catch-phrases to go in between the names Wacey and Rabbit.