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Baker coach receives First Air President’s Award of Excellence

Jim Kreuger of Baker Lake was named the winner of the First Air President’s Award of Excellence by the Recreation and Parks Association of Nunavut during a recent ceremony in Iqaluit.

The award – for Kreuger’s work with local amateur sports in Baker Lake – is for the period covering April 1, 2018, until March 31, 2019.

Jim Kreuger of Baker Lake displays the First Air President’s Award of Excellence he received from the Recreation and Parks Association of Nunavut for his work with amateur sports in Baker on Nov. 16. Photo courtesy of Laurel Kreuger

Kreuger was quite humble in his acceptance of the First Air President’s Award of Excellence and said, upon hearing he had won the award, the first thought he had was that there are so many people more deserving of the honour.

He said he really had to wonder if they got it right in naming him as this year’s winner.

“In town here, there are a lot of people I work with who have worked longer and do more for sports than I do,” said Kreuger.

“I was very honoured and grateful for the award, but I feel quite undeserving because since I do volunteer in sport, I’m aware of people who do so much more.”

Kreuger coached indoor soccer in Baker for about four years and has worked as an elementary phys-ed teacher for the past three years, spending a lot of time on after-school sports on top as his regular duties.

His biggest contribution to local amateur sports, however, comes from his dedication to minor hockey, which he has coached and been involved with at the executive level for a quarter century.

He continues to coach at the initiation-and-novice levels, which he took over with other local people about seven years ago.

Kreuger said he hasn’t coached hockey at the older levels for quite some time, preferring, instead, to concentrate on kids just entering the game.

He said there are 31 kids registered for initiation in Baker this year, as well as 33 registered for novice.

“The biggest change I’ve seen, especially with the younger kids, is the level of parental involvement with the game today,” said Kreuger.

“When I first started to coach, it was to help one of my neighbours, Frank Tootoo. He asked me help and, since my son was just a little toddler playing hockey at the time, I agreed.

“Back then, it was just a couple of us out on the ice with a bunch of kids but, today, while there are two of us signed up as coaches, at any given practice we could have as many as six parents out on the ice, a number of moms and dads in the penalty box or bench areas helping out, and plenty of grammas and grandpas in the stands watching.

“The amount of parental and family involvement with hockey in Baker Lake is the biggest change I’ve seen in the past 25 years and I see that as huge, positive change.”

The game of hockey has undergone significant changes in Baker during the past two decades, with interest at the older levels waning for years and then starting to strongly rebound.

Kreuger sees that pattern as the result of body checking in the game, which may have turned-off some players who just wanted to have fun playing hockey.

He said there have been strong enrollment numbers at the initiation, novice and atom levels for the past seven years.

“For a while, our numbers took a dip when players entered the peewee and bantam levels and body contact came into play,” said Kreuger, noting that body contact has since been removed from peewee across Canada.

“Our kids at the older levels now have the same people coaching from year to year and they’re starting to meet with success.

“That has encouraged, I believe, more kids to continue on through peewee/bantam into midget, where our numbers used to be sparse and we’d often have to team up with other communities to participate in tournaments.

“We’re soon going to reach the point where we have enough homegrown talent to fill out teams in years to come and that’s because the volunteer coaches now commit to it, meaning it’s no longer a one-and-out thing in Baker Lake.”

Kreuger said, by his definition, the future of minor hockey is bright in Baker.

He said he defines that future as kids simply having fun and enjoying playing hockey.

“We have our share of talent now and that talent will soon start to show itself at the territorial level, so, by that standard, other people will soon start to see the quality hockey players we have here.

“We’ve always had a love of hockey in Baker Lake in terms of participation, kids practicing, playing on our Sunday game days and things of that nature.

“The love of hockey has always existed in Baker Lake and that love continues today, possibly even more so.”