Johnny Elias, seen here playing for the KIJHL’s Golden Rockets, was the captain of Team North at the 2018 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships. (Jamie Fitzgerald/Jamie Fitzgerald Photography)

National Aboriginal Hockey Championships coming to Whitehorse, North of 60 for the first time

‘I think we can set the bar fairly high’

The Aboriginal Sport Circle announced in a press release on May 12 that Whitehorse will be the site for the 2019 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, marking the first time the week-long tournament will be held in the territories.

Held annually since 2002, the tournament includes 20 teams of female and male aboriginal athletes between age 15 and 18.

Michelle Dawson-Beattie, host committee chair, said planning for the bid began in November, with the big package released in January.

“Everybody is pretty excited,” said Dawson-Beattie. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but we have a good group so far and I’m very confident that we can pull it off fairly well.”

The Yukon Indian Hockey Association, in partnership with the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle, will host the event.

Dates for the tournament are now set — May 3 to 11, 2019 — and Dawson-Beattie said the next step is getting the host committee established.

“It’s going to be a committee, and underneath the chair there are all these vice chairs for each aspect of the tournament,” said Dawson-Beattie, listing things like transportation, logistics, marketing and sponsorship as examples.

The committee is volunteer-based, but the hope is the city will be able to provide some assistance.

Dawson-Beattie said the YIHA hosts the annual Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, with more than 60 teams in six divisions, so 20 teams in two divisions over a week should be more than doable.

“That is one of our strengths,” said Dawson-Beattie. “I think we can set the bar fairly high. I really want to incorporate culture in all aspects of the tournament and really showcase what the Yukon has to offer.”

Traditionally, Yukon athletes compete as part of Team North alongside players from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and next year’s tournament will be no exception.

While the YIHA is not connected to Team North, discussions about fielding a Yukon team ultimately led to the decision it would not be feasible.

“We would not be able to compete at the level that this tournament is at if we had just a Team Yukon,” said Dawson-Beattie. “And for the girls, I don’t even think we would have enough players to put a team together.

This year’s championship included 11 Yukon players.

Team North female players were Anna Lund, Jordan Macdonald, Kathleen Fordham, Zoe Leas, Cayman Oestreich, Isabelle Oestreich, Samantha McLeod and alternate Echo Kirk, while Team North male players were captain Johnny Elias, Lukas Jirousek and Kyron Crosby.

Dawson-Beattie said there will be opportunities for Yukon Indigenous youth to get involved in the tournament with the idea to show them that “if you love hockey and you want to keep playing, you can aspire to this.”

“You can be playing in this high-calibre tournament if you work hard.”

The 2018 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships were May 6 to 12 in Membertou, Nova Scotia. Team Manitoba won the female division and Team British Columbia won the male division.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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