It’s going to be a busier-than-usual holiday season for 29 hockey players and their families across the Yukon.
The PNW Group boys peewee team and newly-formed Yukon North Stars girls peewee team are making the trek to Ottawa to take part in the Ottawa International Hockey Festival, also known as the Bell Capital Cup, as the winners of the Hockey on the Hill Canada 150 contest.
The contest, put on by Canadian Heritage and the OIHF, brings 32 peewee house league hockey teams to Ottawa to compete in the new Canada 150 division with two teams selected from each province and territory.
Mike Nemeth, head coach for PNW, said entering the contest was a no-brainer after speaking with Pat Tobler, female coordinator for Hockey Yukon coach of the Yukon North Stars.
“We’re looking around and there are four peewee teams in Whitehorse and there is the development program, so that’s only five,” said Nemeth. “We said to each other, ‘I’m pretty sure we got this.’”
Entry in the contest required a brief essay and a 30-second video, so Nemeth got to work.
“I’m not much of a video producer so it wasn’t much,” said Nemeth. “It was no Hollywood production, that’s for sure.”
If Nemeth’s biggest challenge was the video, Tobler’s was more fundamental.
“When we saw the opportunity and read the contest details, we said, ‘Wow, they’re taking a team from Yukon. A girls team from Yukon? We don’t have a girls team from Yukon,’” said Tobler. “We need to find one quick.”
In his role as female coordinator for both Hockey Yukon and Whitehorse Minor Hockey, Tobler has been organizing girls-only ice time for the last couple years in Whitehorse, so he had a pretty good idea of who the girls that might be interested and eligible were.
“I just put together a call-out to all the players that I knew of that were playing here in Whitehorse and also a call to all the community minor hockey associations to pass on to their peewee-aged players.”
Interest in the girls team was immediate, and the roster travelling to Ottawa is made up of 11 players from Whitehorse, three from Dawson City and two from Watson Lake.
The new team got to work and put together an application essay and video.
Both teams were notified at the beginning of December they won.
The initial reaction from the boys was disbelief.
“When I told them, a bunch of them didn’t believe me,” said Nemeth. “They all said, ‘You’re joking. This is a prank.’ I think even a couple of the parents thought I was pranking them when I said we won.”
Tobler’s team believed him, but they were just as excited.
“All the girls were very excited when they first learned about the opportunity, and then obviously when they knew they had the chance to go,” said Tobler.
Hockey Yukon has put together girls-only teams in the past to take part in tournaments Outside, and Tobler said they have always been well received.
“A lot of the girls really enjoy playing in an all-girls environment. So when they heard about this … the girls were tremendously excited,” said Tobler.
Air North scheduled additional flights to transport the teams to the capital, with both teams flying out on Dec. 27 and returning on Dec. 31.
Both teams are guaranteed three games, with the possibility of more depending on results. One of those guaranteed games for each team will be on the outdoor rink on Parliament Hill.
Despite the late notice, there was no grumbling or complaining about ruined holiday plans.
“People dropped what they were doing without hesitation,” said Nemeth.
“For whatever reason, most people seemed to be available or changed their plans so they could participate in this tournament,” said Tobler.
Aside from their hockey games, both teams are going to attend the Ottawa Senators game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 29 and will be touring Parliament during their visit, thanks to MP Larry Bagnell.
Due to renovations, tours will be harder to come by for the next 10 years.
“The next time the kids will be allowed to go there, they’ll be adults,” said Nemeth. “One more addition to the once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org