‘Shoresy’ puts Indigenous characters at centre ice

“Shoresy,” the much-anticipated “Letterkenny” spinoff, is first and foremost a love letter to scrappy minor league hockey teams and it is also rich with Indigenous representation.

And it was important that the show, which premieres Friday on Crave, get both elements right.

“It’s good for (everyone) to see a Canadian hockey TV show based in Sudbury, Ont., with many Indigenous characters and players on the team because we don’t all live on reserves in the middle of nowhere,” said Jordan Nolan.

Besides portraying an Indigenous player on the Sudbury Bulldogs senior hockey team in “Shoresy,” Jordan is one of the 3Nolans, running First Nations hockey schools across Canada with his brother, Brandon, and father, Ted, a former NHL player and coach.

The lead of the series is Jared Keeso, taking his Shoresy character from “Letterkenny,” the hit Crave TV comedy he created, writes and executive produces, to the spinoff, in which he tries to rebuild the hapless Bulldogs into a winning team.

Many of the Bulldogs players and management are Indigenous and played by Indigenous actors, including Harlan Blayne Kytwayhat, Keilani Rose, Blair Lamora, and former professional hockey players Jon Mirasty, and Jordan and Brandon Nolan.

Keeso himself is a former junior hockey player who’s still deeply immersed in the sport.

“(Keeso) wakes up every morning and watches hockey fights from all over the world,” said Jacob Tierney, an executive producer and director on “Shoresy” as well as a producer, director and writer on “Letterkenny.”

“He’ll ask me ‘Did you see this fight in Kazakhstan?’ Of course I didn’t. Nobody has but you,” said Tierney.

The fight scenes in “Shoresy” were part of the show’s efforts to keep its hockey authentic.

Keeso and his team tapped into the experiences of the former pro hockey players in the cast for details from how the fisticuffs unfolded to how the locker room looked.

For Brandon Nolan, a former OHL all-star who played briefly in the NHL, taking part in “Shoresy” aligned with the 3Nolans’ goal to inspire Indigenous youth.

“Growing up we looked up to the players playing in the NHL, like Chris Simon or guys who paved the way like Fred Sasakamoose,” he said. “For us, it’s really just about inspiring the next generation, whether that’s acting, hockey or in any profession.”

Keeso and Tierney were open to suggestions from their cast about more than the hockey. For example, Kytwayhat is Cree and asked to switch his character, Sanguinet, from being Ojibwe to Cree.

“I don’t know a single word of Ojibwe and if I’m going to be talking slang I want to do it in a native tongue,” Kytwayhat said. “I didn’t want to learn an Ojibwe word hours before we shoot the scene.”

Kytwayhat, always a fan of “Letterkenny,” is thrilled to be part of the show’s universe. Tierney’s oddball “Letterkenny” character Glen is his favourite, but he also enjoys the Indigenous elements of that series.

“When (Indigenous character Tanis) said ‘skoden, stoodis’” in an episode — Indigenous slang for “Let’s go then. Let’s do this” — “that was the best,” Kytwayhat said.

He was introduced to “Letterkenny” by his uncle, who fittingly showed him a YouTube compilation of Shoresy clips. In “Shoresy,” Kytwayhat plays the titular character’s best friend.

The new series shares the original’s hallmark rapid-fire dialogue and unusual speech patterns, but Keeso and Tierney wanted to offer audiences something different.

“We want ‘Letterkenny’ to be a place you can just keep coming back to, with a real classic sitcom format,” said Tierney. With “Shoresy,” “we’re telling a story. We’re building momentum” with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Another familiar name attached to the spinoff is Kaniehtiio Horn, Tanis in “Letterkenny,” but here she’s behind the scenes as a consulting producer, her first time in that role.

Horn recently won a Canadian Screen Award for playing Tanis and said it feels nice to be recognized “It feels nice to have been recognized and acknowledged by the Academy (of Canadian Cinema & Television) for a comedic role I have loved bringing to life for 10 seasons, a role I have made my own and does not play into Indigenous stereotypes.”

She also ensured “Shoresy” didn’t play into Indigenous stereotypes, passing the new Indigenous characters through the “smell test,” as Tierney called it.

“She’s one of the smartest people that both of us know,” said Tierney. “She’s invested in her community in these issues in a very serious way, but she’s also invested in storytelling and filmmaking in the same serious way.”

Besides soaking up as much as she could on the other side of the camera, from casting to watching the monitors, Horn offered support to the actors. Kytwayhat said he immediately called her “Auntie” on set.

“I talked to her a bunch before we actually got there, questions about acting, being on set or the protocols, and she was really great,” said Brandon Nolan.

The inclusion and collaboration of “Shoresy” was meaningful to both the cast and production team.

“There’s something different about this show because it’s a show about hockey,” said Horn. “Hockey involves everybody in Canada, and Indigenous people were a huge part of the landscape of hockey and a huge part of the landscape of Canada. (‘Shoresy’) lets us just be that. There’s no statements being made.

“Whether or not these Indigenous characters are from the rez or from the city, they’re just there,” Horn said. “And that’s revolutionary in its own right.”

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