Team Manitoba forward Jaden Pashe looks for a hole to put the puck during third period action in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship’s gold medal game in Whitehorse on May. 12. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Team Alberta removed from 2019 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships over travel plans

After weeks of back and forth, sport governing body sticks to original schedule for medal round

The 2019 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) wrapped up on May 12 with thrilling medal-round games at Takhini Arena in Whitehorse, but the biggest drama was off the ice surrounding the travel plans of the male Team Alberta and the ultimate decision from the Aboriginal Sport Circle — a national sport governing body — and the tournament’s working group, to remove the team on the final day of the tournament.

Team Alberta opened up the tournament with a 6-3 win over Team Saskatchewan, a 5-3 win over Team Eastern Door and North, and a 7-0 win against Team Manitoba in the qualifying round to earn a spot in the semifinal again against Manitoba, winning 6-4 on May 11 to earn a spot in the final, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Sunday May 12.

Unfortunately for Team Alberta, officials with the team booked flights back to Alberta on the afternoon of May 12.

As a result, the Aboriginal Sport Circle and the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships Working Group removed Team Alberta from the remainder of the tournament according to a press release made public following the bronze medal game on May 12 after the team failed to make any changes to its travel itinerary.

A second release from event organizers following the gold-medal game between Saskatchewan and bronze-medal-game-winners Manitoba added more detail.

“Teams were responsible for their own travel bookings after being provided group travel information from the Host Committee’s local partners,” it said. “The schedule for the 2019 NAHC was known in November 2018, leaving Team Alberta male ample opportunity to change their flight plans prior to the start of the Championships.”

An unattributed statement posted on Team Alberta’s Facebook page May 13 details the situation from Team Alberta’s perspective and while largely in agreement with the NAHC’s statement, it diverges on some points.

“We did book our flights on Sunday at 3:40 p.m. back to Edmonton and Calgary as this was the only flight available because Monday flights were full and could not accommodate our teams,” Team Alberta’s statement said, adding that this was the first time the NAHC has finished on a Sunday rather than Saturday.

Both sides agree the issue was further discussed in person three weeks before the championships, but present different versions of what those discussions entailed.

The statement from the NAHC said a travel plan was presented to Team Alberta on April 18 that would have meant the team left Whitehorse on May 13 — after the tournament was over.

Team Alberta’s statement does not directly address this plan, but said team officials spoke to Jeff Spencer, chair of the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships Working Group, in a conference call while Team Alberta officials were in Whitehorse and were told the only option was to change the team’s travel arrangements.

“At that time we specifically discussed the only option which was most logical (according to Jeff Spencer) was for our team to fly in May 4 and depart May 14,” the statement said, adding that 10 days in Whitehorse would be untenable due to the cost and players missing school.

“We left the conference call with optimism that the ‘hockey committee’ could come to a solution that was going to benefit everyone, especially our players. In our minds, the easiest decision was to possibly reschedule the gold medal game.”

It is unclear why Team Alberta believed another solution would be forthcoming and the News has been unable to contact any officials with Team Alberta for further comment.

Once players arrived at the tournament, both the working group and the host committee were informed Team Alberta was still scheduled to depart on May 12 prior to the gold-medal game.

After Alberta advanced to the semifinal, the issue was brought to the Provincial Territorial Aboriginal Sport Bodies (PTASB) representatives at the coaching meeting, where the PTASB representatives and the working group agreed the schedule would not be changed and the championships would conclude with the male gold medal game at 5:30 p.m. on May 12.

The statement from Team Alberta indicates the team continued to lobby to have the final game time changed up until the coaches meeting on May 12, where a change to the schedule was again denied.

After the meeting on the morning of the final, Team Alberta’s statement said parents began booking flights to Edmonton via Vancouver for Monday in order to play in the game, as well as investigating ground transportation options.

According to Echo Ross, vice-chair of marketing for the tournament, when Team Alberta did not provide proof of changed plans — i.e. ticket reservations or a bus rental — the ASC and NAHC Working Group decided Team Alberta would be removed from the tournament.

The statement from the NAHC said that the decision to remove Alberta was made at noon on May 12 — the day of the final — and that the two teams in the bronze medal game between Manitoba and B.C. were informed of the decision to have the winner play for gold during the first intermission of the game.

Per its statement, Team Alberta left as scheduled the afternoon of May 12.

Officials with Team Alberta could not be reached for comment.

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

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