Whitehorse’s Teneesha Merkel, 17, wasn’t exactly waiting by the phone, hoping for a call from Team NWT. But she also wasn’t surprised when the call came.
“My dad is the one who spoke to them about it and when he told me I was so excited,” said Merkel. “At the Arctic Winter Games some people came up to me and said they heard of this, but they weren’t sure if that was going to happen or not. So I was hoping NWT would call.
“When I heard they called and offered to pay my way there, I thought, ‘Wow, this is great.’
“This is the first time I’ve been picked by a team without even trying out.”
Merkel, who played in net for Yukon’s female hockey team during the Arctic Winter Games last month in Grande Prairie, Alberta – helping the team win silver at the event – has agreed to play for NWT at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships next month in Ottawa.
No doubt NWT’s coaching staff caught sight of Merkel during Yukon’s run to silver at the Arctic Games, and especially in Yukon’s 6-4 win over NWT to reach the semifinal.
“We definitely didn’t go into the Games thinking we’d get silver,” said Merkel. “Actually, one of our team goals at the beginning was to not lose by five. So for us to win silver, it was a great thing and brought us together.”
Team Yukon looked strong right from the get-go last month, beginning the tournament with a 1-1 tie against powerhouse Alaska, the Games’ defending champions at the time. They later surprised themselves with a 4-3 win over their neighbours to the west to reach the finals.
“At first we thought it was a bit of a fluke, like they didn’t expect much from us,” said Merkel. “But when we played them again and beat them, we were really excited and surprised.
“There was a celebration after every game.”
No stranger to playing on teams representing territories or provinces, Merkel played for Team Yukon in the Canada Winter Games and on Team BC in the 2008 North American Indigenous Games. She also played on Team BC at the 2008 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, winning bronze.
“She’s good physically, but where she got good in the last couple years is her mental game,” said Louis Bouchard, head coach for Team Yukon at the Arctic Games. “She used to get thrown off by a couple of goals. Now she can waive them off and keep on going.
“She has everything to go far – very far – in this game.”
Unlike so many athletes who achieve success through incessant practice and training, Merkel’s recent successes are actually coming after taking a year off from the sport.
“It was getting really stressful,” said Merkel. “I was just coming off the Canada Winter Games and a couple other tournaments and I had to get more serious about school and I had a job that scheduled me a lot.
“And my dad was my coach for a long time, so it was kind of good to take a year off from him,” she added jokingly.
When it comes to the aboriginal championships, Yukon hockey players – both male and female – usually try out for and play on Team BC. However, this year BC is not sending a female hockey team to the championships.
“The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships is the most prestigious aboriginal tournament in Canada,” said Greg Edgelow, executive director of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle. “It is in the works so next year Yukon can send a team – at least one team.”
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