Photo credits: Mark Kuhlmann, Russ Hons (North Dakota), Garrett James Photography (Wenatchee)
Jasper Weatherby is currently in his junior season at the University of North Dakota, after having played two years with the Wenatchee Wild from 2016 to 2018. At just 23 years of age, Weatherby has accomplished a lot already in his young life. He is a BCHL champion, leading scorer and MVP, he’s a leader and a key contributor to one of college hockey’s best teams and, in 2018, he was drafted into the NHL by the San Jose Sharks.
Despite that impressive list of feats, what is maybe most impressive about Weatherby is not what he’s done on the ice, but his commitment to the fight against racial injustice off the ice.
The reason it is so important to him is simple. It is in his blood.
“I have an adopted Black brother and my family’s roots are pretty ingrained in the civil rights era,” he said. “Just being raised in that environment and having a background with grandparents who marched with Martin Luther King and fought for civil rights early in this country, I think that paved a nice pathway for me. It’s something I’m really passionate about.”
With that in mind, it was no surprise that when the newly-formed College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee was announced early this month, Weatherby was one of the players to volunteer his time to be a part of it.
“This summer, after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., there were obviously a lot of eyes on the treatment of minorities and people of colour in this country,” said Weatherby. “College hockey wanted to start a group to look at some of those issues within college hockey and see if we could help. “
“They were looking for some people to volunteer from each conference and I tossed my hat in the ring and was lucky enough to get selected to help out. We’ve been meeting three times a month, just working on ways that we can improve our game and help it be more inclusive and unified. It’s been really powerful.”
Back in December, Weatherby and his teammate Jacob Bernard-Docker made headlines as the first players in college hockey to take a knee during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice. Not surprisingly, they faced some backlash online and in the community for their actions, but the two of them made it clear from the start that they had no intention of making a political statement.
“It had nothing to do with politics,” said Weatherby. “It had everything to do with opening people’s eyes to the injustices that have been happening and, hopefully, allowing people to do their own research and come to their own conclusions of what needs to be done and how they can help. A lot of times, people turn a blind eye to it because it doesn’t affect them.”
With all the time and effort he has spent raising awareness for racial injustice, you would excuse the Lummi Island, Wash. product if his mind was elsewhere while on the ice, but that has not been the case. After putting up five points in his freshman year, Weatherby’s point total jumped up to 18 in 35 games last year and he has notched 15 in 22 so far this year. He was also named an assistant captain to start this season.
Although he may have gotten off to a slower start to his college career than he had hoped, according to Weatherby, it is all part of the process.
“Coming in as a freshman, it’s like drinking water from a firehose,” he said. “You’re getting a lot of information. It’s a tough league to play in. I truly think the NCHC is the best conference in college hockey. Guys are stepping right into the NHL. I came in as a scrawny kid, but I put on about 20 pounds and have really been able to fill out my body and feel confident in myself.”
His head coach during his time in Wenatchee was Bliss Littler, who was named BCHL Coach of the Year both seasons he had Weatherby on his team. He is not surprised that it took a year for his former player to get fully acclimated to college hockey since he followed a similar trajectory in the BCHL.
“Jasper was the same hardworking player when he got here as our 11th, 12th or 13th forward, as when he left here as the league’s leading scorer and MVP,” said Littler. “He worked just as hard. He was a great teammate and a humble guy who always showed up with enthusiasm, determination and work ethic.”
“We knew there would be an adjustment [in college], like there is for most kids that first year. We knew his ice time would increase and we knew that he would turn into a power forward for them. The one thing that we knew absolutely, 100 per cent, was that he would be one of their leaders and that’s evident with him wearing a letter this year.”
Littler is not surprised at all that Weatherby wanted to be a part of the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and neither was he surprised when he learned that Weatherby was being vocal about his support for the fight against racial injustice. It is because Weatherby has been the same type of person since his junior hockey days and, even at a young age, Littler was able to identify him as a person with morals and strong principles.
“He’s just a quality kid,” said Littler. “He has his beliefs, and he lives them.”