Macleod Arnatiaq, 14, was surprised, shocked, and over-the-moon happy when he was told by Tuugaalik High School vice-principal Julia MacPherson that he would be heading to Calgary to see an NHL game between the Flames and the Nashville Predators and getting to meet Calgary defenceman Travis Hamonic.
And, as Arnatiaq listened, the news just kept getting better.
Not only would he be accompanied by his father, Emmanuel Uttak, but his younger brother, Pakak, would also be making the trip.
The adventure became Macleod’s when he was selected from a list of names sent to the Northern Project by MacPherson.
Hamonic, who is of Metis descent, and his wife, Stephanie, along with the Flames Foundation, started the program for aboriginal youth who have maintained positive attitudes while overcoming deep adversity in their lives.
Macleod, who had never been farther than Winnipeg before the trip, said the experience was awesome.
He said while he’s really not that big of a hockey fan, he likes it a little better now, and Hamonic has quickly become his favourite player.
“One of the best parts of the whole thing for me was the flight there, because I got to see all the big buildings in the city as we were getting ready to land,” said Macleod.
“I was like, “Whoa,” as I was looking out at them.”
Macleod, his dad, and Pakak were given the grand tour of the Saddledome by Hamonic and the 14-year-old was impressed by what he saw.
He said visiting the dressing room was cool and a lot of fun, and the Flames players were very friendly and made them feel comfortable as they checked everything out.
“Many of the players seemed more excited to have their picture taken with me than I was with them,” he said with a slight chuckle.
“Travis reminded us before we went into the dressing room not to walk on the team logo, so we were careful not to.
“My dad was so happy for me, and so happy to be on the trip with me and Pakak, that he cried.
“We got picked up by a stretch limo and stuff, and they gave me a hat that one of their goalies signed (David Rittich), and a stick and jersey that Travis signed to take home with me.”
Like any youth who has spent most of their life in their home community, there were plenty of other things away from the Saddledome that caught Macleod’s eye during the trip.
Macleod said he loved so many of the buildings he saw, and couldn’t believe just how big Calgary actually is.
“We, kind of, ate a lot at McDonald’s during the trip, but I ordered a big steak when we ate with Travis.
“The mall we went shopping at was so big, and there were so many stores and things in there.
“I just had a really great, fun time, and I made sure to say thank you for everything to Travis and his wife.
“We all had fun, but, I think, my dad will talk more about the trip than I will.”
MacPherson said she was quite anxious on the final day of school before the Christmas break, because she wanted everything to go well for them on the trip.
She said she was praying there wouldn’t be any bad weather on Dec. 14, when they were scheduled to fly out, which is always a big worry in the Kivalliq.
“The boys actually picked out a narwhal carving for Travis and an ookpik for his wife, and they made a thank you card and wanted to print-off pictures of places around Naujaat to give to them.” said MacPherson.
“Macleod lost his mom and two older brothers when he was quite young, and that would affect any young man as they’re growing, so meeting that adversity was probably why he was selected.
“They’ve been proudly wearing their hats and jerseys every day at school since they came back, and their dad still has tears of happiness and appreciation when asked of the trip, so that definitely feels really good.
“I was just so happy that they were able to be treated to this amazing opportunity, which they’re going to remember and cherish for the rest of their lives.”