The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) are back after two years of cancellations due to Covid-19 and that means Team North is also back.
The 2022 edition of the championships will be held in Membertou, N.S., next month and it’s just a boys team that will be making the trip this time. There will be no girls squad this year due to timing, according to Kyle Kugler, Hockey North’s executive director.
“We didn’t feel it would be realistic and the coaches made the decision to hold off for a year,” Kugler said. “The boys team asked to wait on making the decision for 2022 and they were able to get things together. Going forward, the goal is to have a girls team ready for the 2023 tournament.”
Ryan St. John of Arviat is the team’s manager for this year and he said putting everything together came down to the wire.
“It was an 11th-hour decision on whether we would have the team,” he said. “I jumped in to take on the role and put together the coaching staff, help select the team and try to get as much funding as we could to make it happen.”
Half of this year’s roster of 20 players will feature from the territory with the bulk coming from the Kivalliq region. David Clark of Rankin Inlet will be the head coach and he’ll be assisted by Jamie Savikataaq of Iqaluit and Michael Tuton of Whitehorse. Alyssa Ross of Inuvik, NWT will serve as the team’s trainer.
St. John said with the coaches and players in place, the job now is to tie up the loose ends as best as he can.
“We’re finalizing all of our travel arrangements, getting the logistics taken care of, making sure all of the proper paperwork is in,” he said. “It should all come together in the next couple of weeks.”
When it came to picking who would be on the team, St. John said he received around 80 resumes from players all over the three territories.
He was impressed with what he saw.
“The first thing I noticed was the amount of kids playing AAA or AA down south,” he said. “A lot of kids are playing in the south now and so that made the decision easy on who to select from that. For the other spots, we looked at who from the North could best fill in those gaps we had and that was the tougher part of the final decision. I think we have a really competitive team and our goal is to go there and win some games.”
Having Team North return to the tournament was up in the air after the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT, which had organized every facet of the outfit, announced in 2019 that it would no longer look after the day-to-day operations. The main reason was the cost; the budget for the 2019 championships was a little under $200,000, with no assistance from either Yukon or Nunavut.
Aaron Wells, the Aboriginal Sports Circle’s executive director, said he’s quite pleased to see Team North back in the saddle.
“We worked with Kyle on handing over the uniforms and the logo,” Wells said. “Kyle has been sitting in on the (NAHC) meeting calls and we worked with Ryan as well. I’m happy that there’s a Team North at that tournament and hopeful that we can build a relationship with those in charge of running the operation.”
There won’t be any training camp in the North before the team leaves, said St. John, but the boys will all meet in Winnipeg on May 3 for some team-building activities and a bit of on-ice work.
“We’ll just do the best we can in terms of getting the kids to come together,” he said. “After that, we fly into Halifax on May 6 and get ready for the tournament.”
The boys will kick things off in the very first game of the tournament against Saskatchewan on May 9 and St. John said he knows it will be a tough test right off of the bat.
“I’ve had a look at Saskatchewan’s roster and they have a very formidable team, lots of kids playing AAA and junior,” he said. “That’s the advantage those types of teams have — a bigger pool of Indigenous kids to pick from but we have a lot of kids who have played down south as well. Twelve of our kids have that experience at an elite level and I’m hoping more of our kids from the North can get that chance to play in the south. It’s going to make them better players and give them a better chance to follow their dreams.”
Here is the Nunavut contingent for Team North:
Tucker St. John, Arviat
Garren Voisey, Whale Cove
Sandy Tattuinee, Rankin Inlet
Justin Issikiark, Rankin Inlet
Bradley Nowdluk-Fraser, Iqaluit
Kadin Eetuk, Rankin Inlet
Kobe Tanuyak, Rankin Inlet
Owen Connelly-Clark, Rankin Inlet
Prime Paniyuk, Coral Harbour
Koby Connelly, Rankin Inlet
source: Hockey North