A new sport arrived in Arviat in a big way this past week.
Roller hockey enthusiast and Team Canada player Michael Hunt and his partner and floor installer, Lincoln Whitehead, came to Arviat to install the Sport Court floor in the arena and conduct a week-long camp to introduce local youth to the sport.
The hamlet of Arviat matched the donations of Eskimo Point Lumber ($10,000), Agnico Eagle Mines ($10,000), Sanaqatiit Construction ($5,000) and Tower Arctic ($5,000) to make the initiative a reality, while Calm Air provided passes and free freight to the project.
Hunt, 49, runs the Hockey Barn training centre in Winnipeg and said the project began when Arviat businessman Ryan St. John brought his son to train at the Barn.
He said he and St. John began talking about the benefit the Sport Court flooring would be to Arviat youth, and the project took off from there.
“The whole idea was to bring a floor to Arviat, install it in the rink and allow the local kids to utilize the facility 12 months a year,” said Hunt.
“We put in about 16,000 square feet of Sport Court and the donations from the hamlet of Arviat and all the sponsors allowed for the purchase of 50 pairs of roller-hockey skates, pants, pucks and other equipment.
“Then we began introducing the sport of roller hockey to the community.”
Roller hockey differs from regular ice hockey in that it’s played four-on-four with no icing or offside.
The game allows young players to continue skating when they’re not playing ice hockey, and also to continue working on their skill development.
It’s also an attractive option to kids who may not be able to afford to play ice hockey, or who just want to have fun playing a different game.
Hunt said about 50 people came out during a special family night at the camp, during which the kids simply came out to skate around with their friends.
He said the camp ran nearly five hours every day after the floor was installed, and they also held an open skate each evening from 6 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.
“It’s very important to give the kids time to do their own thing.
“They don’t need to be coached and looked after for every single minute of every single day.
“I like to give them a little freedom to go out there, experiment with the roller-hockey wheels, get comfortable on their skates, practice stickhandling by themselves, or just pass the puck back and forth with a friend.
“Since we finished installing the floor on Aug. 11, the rink has been packed here every night with kids, parents, friends and family.”
Hunt said the beauty of roller hockey is that you can simply drop the floor in any facility, turn the lights on, and you’re ready to go.
He said the only thing you have to do after that is sweep the floor every couple of days and give it a good wash every couple of weeks.
“It enables a lot of kids who have never played ice hockey – or who are afraid to play ice hockey – to go out there and learn how to skate.
“There are actually between 50 to 60 NHL players right now who still play roller hockey and who are very, very big supporters of the sport.
“The Anaheim Ducks own eight in-line rinks in Southern California. You see all these players coming from California and down south right now and they’re not ice-hockey guys. They all started playing roller hockey.
“If you Google NHL roller hockey players, the list of players will just absolutely blow you away.”
Hunt has played for Team Canada for 10 years and, just this past month, he returned from coaching the Canadian gold-medal winning U23 and U16 teams at the American Athletic Union Junior Olympics in Southern California.
Roller hockey has been in the Pan American Games for a number of years and is played every four years at the World Games.
Hunt suited up for Team Canada at the 2005 World Games in Dachsberg, Germany, and he’s hoping the sport will be in the Olympics somewhere over the next eight to 12 years.
He said the one thing he’s going to do his best to ensure, is that roller hockey is given every chance to succeed in Arviat.
“Lincoln (Whitehead) and I have to go back to Arviat this coming November to take the floor out.
“It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle with tiles so, as you can imagine, when you put the floor down you have to cut the tiles perfectly to fit the corners of the rink, and you have to take them out in a certain way, as well.
“So, we’ll do another five-day camp at that time to keep the momentum going, and we’d also like to lay some flooring down in the monster hall attached to the rink (Mark Kalluak Community Hall) so the kids can, at least, continue skating if they want.
“I want this to take off in the North because it’s so beneficial for the kids, especially in the communities where there’s not a lot for them to do, so I’ll do everything in my power to make sure the Arviat initiative carries on for the next five, 10 or 15 years.”