All three of Canada’s territories will be represented on the same team at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Kahnawake, Quebec, at the end of the month.
For the first time at the championships there will be pan-territorial squads, called Team North, at the midget-level tournament.
“The idea of a pan-northern team started last year at Arctics (the Arctic Winter Games),” said Louis Bouchard, head coach of Whitehorse’s Female Mustangs rep team. “We brought forward an idea to send a pan-northern team to nationals – the Hockey Canada U18 nationals were in Dawson Creek – and Hockey Canada refused us.
“That’s where the idea came from and the coaches from N.W.T. picked up on that and decided to try it for the aboriginal nationals.”
“In the past, we’ve just sent Team N.W.T., but now we’ve decided to join all three territories together to hopefully send a stronger team to the championships and improve our ranking,” said Aaron Wells, program co-ordinator of the Aboriginal Sport Circle of the N.W.T., the organization that spearheaded the formation of Team North.
“When we set out to do this, we said we were going to take the best players from across the North, even if it meant 20 players from Nunavut, only two from N.W.T. and one from Yukon. But it’s worked out that it’s almost even across the board for both male and female.”
The Team North rosters include six Yukoners on the girls squad and four on the boys.
The 10 Yukon players were scouted at the Yukon Native Hockey Tournament last month in Whitehorse.
“There wasn’t quite the money available for us to do a full selection process,” said Wells. “After this championship, we’re going to evaluate the selection process and establish a better selection process. For this year, we went to the tournaments in N.W.T., Nunavut held their territorial trials for the Arctic Winter Games, and Yukon had the native hockey tournament and we scouted for players at those tournaments.”
Though it will be the first time a pan-territorial team will compete at the championships, it’s not the first time Yukoners will take to the ice in the tournament.
Whitehorse’s Lynsey Keaton, who will play for Team North, has competed at the championship the last two years. Keaton and other Yukoners have been drafted by Team B.C. the last few years.
“I’m playing with more Team Yukon players, like Adrianne (Dewhurst), Sierra (Oakley), Maya (Oakley) and Monica (Johnson), so it’s kind of different and I like it,” said Keaton. “I’m hoping we’ll do well. We’ll see what happens.”
Keaton played for the Inland Tlingit Warriors who placed second in the jamboree division of the Yukon Native Hockey Championships.
She also played on the Female Mustangs this season with the Oakley sisters from Haines Junction, and Whitehorse’s Johnson.
Dewhurst and Sierra also played on Team B.C. at last year’s aboriginal championship.
It’ll be Johnson’s first time going.
“When I think about it, I get really nervous and I’m really excited,” said Johnson. “It seems really special. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
With the exception of Johnson, all the female players represented the Yukon at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax. Keaton, Sierra, Dewhurst and Dawson City’s Natalja Blanchard, the others named to Team North, also played for the Yukon at last year’s Arctic Winter Games, winning bronze.
Whitehorse’s Kole Comin, Devaughn Davies and Tyrell Hope, and Haines Junction’s Dylan McCuaig, have been selected for Team North’s boys squad. All four represented the Yukon at last year’s Arctic Games.
McCuaig helped the AAA Midget AC Avalanche win Sutter Cup at the southern Alberta championships in Lethbridge last month.
Hope plays defence for the Sherwood Park Sandy’s Oilers in the Northern Alberta Midget AA Hockey League.
Davies captained the Inland Tlingit Warriors in the Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. He is currently the assistant captain and forward for the Okanagan Hockey Academy Black in Prince George this season.
Comin played for the Midget A Mustangs this season and was spotted while playing on the Champagne Aishihik Junior Storm at the native hockey tournament.
Team North’s female squad will also include Whitehorse coach Candice MacEachen.
The three territories have been teaming up to send pan-territorial basketball teams to nationals for more than half a decade, “And it was the first time that a team from the territories ever won a game at nationals,” said Wells. “We saw that and said, ‘If it’s working for other sports, why can’t it work for us?’”
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