North Yukon wins YIHA tournament

A new chapter was added to the North Yukon Eagles’ decade-long rivalry with the Nannock Warriors Sunday night at the Yukon Indian Hockey…

A new chapter was added to the North Yukon Eagles’ decade-long rivalry with the Nannock Warriors Sunday night at the Yukon Indian Hockey Association Tournament’s A-division final.

In front of a boisterous Takhini Arena crowd, the Eagles battled back and forth with Nannock, last year’s champion.

The score was tied at two after two periods. Three Eagles’ goals in a strong third period charge (including a last-minute empty netter) were enough to get past Nannock, with a 6-4 final score.

“Everyone had a bad taste in their mouth from the second-place finish last year,” said North Yukon coach Michael Tuton. “This is the team we wanted to play in the finals.”

There were only four teams entered in the A-division, but they all had a good chance of winning the $5,000 first prize, said Eagles’ captain Darius Elias.

“It was an interesting tournament, every team was one and one after Saturday’s games,” he said.

Some new Blood may have given the Eagles the edge they needed, literally. With several players out of the lineup due to injury or work commitments, Elias looked south from his Old Crow captain’s chair.

Three ringers from the Blood reserve near Lethbridge, Alberta, freshly booted from Allan Cup contention, made the trip up to play with the largely Gwich’in North Yukon Squad.

“They’re our blood brothers,” laughed Elias.

“They were excellent, they never ran out of legs, and Jared Weasel Moccasin ended up winning MVP as well.”

The other A-division award winners were Nannocks’ Bill McKay, for best defencemen, North Yukon’s Brian Power was named best goalie. Top scorer was Nannock’s Clayton Thomas.

Nannock settled for silver, and a $3,000 purse, but there’s always next year.

“You know Nannock is going to try and build their team up, and we’re going to build our team up… it’s going to be good hockey,” said Tuton.

Southern Storm took the bronze and $1,500 in prize money.

Northwind Industries, from Inuvik, took fourth and also received the most inspirational team award.

“They don’t win, but they keep coming back… like the little engine that could,” said tournament vice-president Diane Strand. “That’s what makes the tournament what it is.”

In the crowded B-division, 14 teams battled it out, some playing seven or eight games over the weekend.

Watson Lake’s Kaska Selects beat the Aklavik Ice Hawks 9-2 in the final, and Kaska’s relatively light schedule may have helped.

“We had a 5-0 run to the end,” said Kaska coach Don Magun after the game. “We came out quick and got a good start.”

Aklavik played two games earlier in the day, and just couldn’t skate with Kaska.

“We had a lot of young players on the team this year, a lot of gas in the tank,” said Kaska veteran Charles Brodhagen.

“It’s a lot of fun, we all know each other, and the fans are just awesome,” he added. The competition is good, but the social aspects of the tournament play a big role in its success as well, he said.

“Everyone comes here and enjoys themselves, it’s the main event of the year for sure, just look at the fans, there’s no other tournament like it in Whitehorse.”

During the awards presentation, organizers hinted that Kaska should be an A-division team next year.

Aklavik took the silver, Fort MacPherson took bronze and the BC Warriors (from Prince George/ Dease Lake) took fourth spot.

Kaska’s Justin Paul took MVP honours, and Dan Emslie was named best goalie. Aklavik’s Kelly Oliak was the B-division’s top scorer, and Stephen Charlie was named best defenceman.

At the last minute, a new division was formed for 14-17 year old players. Due to insurance reasons, players under 18 couldn’t play with adult teams in the A or B divisions.

“That really threw us for a loop, and many teams as well,” said Strand.

Not wanting to shut these kids out, a Jamboree division was set up, and enough players from Dawson, Teslin and Whitehorse put their names in the hat to create four teams.

Strand said she doesn’t see this new division disappearing, now that there is enough ice for the tournament.

In the past, things could get a little cramped with just Takhini and Stan McCowan arenas.

This year, the Canada Games Centre’s two rinks and the Takhini ice allowed the tournament to grow a little.

“Having that extra arena really boosted the youth division, we went from four or five teams in the past to seven teams this year,” said Strand.

The 13-and-under youth division final featured the Junior Storm and the Skylight Warriors.

Tied 4-4 after regulation play, the Skylight squad ended it quickly in sudden death overtime.

“It went pretty well,” said Skylight goalie Teneesha Merkel, “they (Junior Storm) were small, but tough.”

The Junior Storm took silver, and the Teslin Roughriders took bronze.

Awards went to Skylight’s Teneesha Merkel for best goalie, and Travis Park for best defenceman. Jasmine Beeton from the Dawson Wolf Pack won most sportsmanlike honours, and the Junior Storm’s Dave Stephens was the top scorer.

The youth division’s MVP was Travis Rivest from the Junior Storm, and Brad Gustafson was named most inspirational player.

The Harry Allen Memorial Leadership Award, normally given to coaches, went to the First Nations community in Dawson.

“They work really hard, and we wanted to recognize that,” said Strand.

Dawson entered two youth teams, two B-division teams, and several Jamboree players, and has helped greatly with fundraising and volunteering, said Strand.