For 33 Aboriginal hockey players from the NWT, Yukon and Nunavut, playing for Team North at the Northern Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Quebec last week was about more than just hockey; it was also about bonding.
Derek Squirrel of the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT accompanied Team North to the annual hockey championships – held for the second year in a row in Kahnawake, Que. – and said for many of the players, the tournament was an opportunity for them to grow closer to their Aboriginal roots, learn from other cultures and share their love of hockey.
“We do a lot of team bonding stuff, so it’s more than just hockey to us when we have these kids, it’s a chance to get them out and be able to leave their community and travel,” Squirrel said.
This is the second year the three territories have teamed up to send male and female players to compete against eight other Aboriginal teams from across Canada in the annual seven-day, 45-game tournament.
Team North and its coaches arrived in Quebec four days early this year to participate in warm-up exercises that weren’t all on ice.
Led by Dene elder Be’sha Blondin who accompanied Team North to Kahnawake, Team North players had a two-day cultural session before their ice time began.
“Some of these kids play hockey down south and so it was important to bring awareness of their culture, that they are Aboriginal,” Squirrel said.
Squirrel said the hockey tournament was also a rare opportunity for the Northern athletes to get exposure to talent scouts in the south.
“One of the biggest things that we find is some of these kids don’t get this kind of exposure. There are scouts here, there are private schools here, so it’s an opportunity for them to expand their hockey career and go places if they want to,” he said from Quebec.
Team North results
The Team North boys finished sixth in their pool of eight with a huge win against Eastern Door and the North, a team from Quebec, last Wednesday. The game was tight, but the boys secured the win with a final score of 4-2. The boys’ final game against Team Ontario in the playoffs was a hard-fought battle with both teams racking up points, but Ontario came out ahead with a 9-7 win.
The girls team struggled at the beginning of the tournament with four crushing defeats that kept them in the bottom of the pool, but they gave it their all and scored several goals despite the tough competition to take seventh place overall. The girls’ final game against Team BC saw Team North come out strong with a goal from Davina McLeod, but the opposition fought back and ended the game 3-1 for BC.
Team Saskatchewan swept the tournament this year with a first-place finish for both the boys’ and girls’ teams.
NWT well represented in Team North
This year, Team North was made up of 15 players from the NWT, including forward Evan Tordiff and Megan Evoy, both from Fort Smith, who were scouted to play for the territories at the Arctic Winter Games last February.
Her second year playing at the NAHC, Evoy said this year was an even better run than when she played two years ago for Team NWT at the championships in Saskatoon.
“Some girls have been going for a couple years so they already know each other. One person is new to NAHC so I’d say they’re jelling pretty good,” she told The Journal.
Despite ending up in last place, Evoy said the team played well and fought hard in all of their games.