Hay River will be well represented at the upcoming National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC), which are set for May 6-14 in Whitehorse.
Five young people from the community will be playing with Team North, which consists of a male team and female team made up of players from the NWT, Yukon and Nunavut.
One of them is 17-year-old Trey Beck, who heard about a month ago that he had been selected.
“To be honest, I felt a lot of excitement because I’ve been trying to make this team for a few years now,” he said.
Beck added that he is honoured to be selected, and he feels that playing Junior A hockey in Alberta this past winter helped him make the team.
His Junior A season started with the Hinton Wildcats, but he was traded in January to the Cold Lake Wings. In junior hockey, he started out as a centre, but has learned to play all three forward positions.
Beck said it will definitely be different playing with Team North, considering it is made up of players from all three territories.
His goal for the tournament is to improve every game.
Hay River’s Jenna Demarcke is also happy to be selected for the first time for the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.
“I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of different people, because we’re actually Team North,” she said. “So there’s a bunch of different people in one team from Yukon and Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. And it’s out of all of Canada. So I’ve never actually played that many teams before.”
The 14-year-old will be one of the youngest players on the team. The youngest female player will be a 13-year-old from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.
Demarcke, who plays centre or right wing, does not have any specific goals for the NAHC, which will be her first national event.
“More just hoping for a great experience, because I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “So I hope it turns out good.”
The other players from Hay River on Team North are Zack Horton and Kaden Beck on the male team, and Chandelle Leonard on the female team.
The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships feature bantam and midget players from across Canada. This year, nine male teams and nine female teams will be competing.
Inuvik’s Les Skinner, the coach of the male Team North, said there is a little higher representation than usual from Hay River.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to who or where we select from,” he said. “It’s who we feel would best represent Team North.”
Because there are no selection camps, the players are chosen on the evaluations and scouting reports from local coaches, along with Skinner seeing players at various tournaments.
One of the challenges for the coaches is to create a team from players who may have never competed together before and often played on opposing teams.
“We bring the kids together a couple of days before the tournament starts,” said Skinner, explaining there will be a three-day training camp in Whitehorse.
“It’s a challenge to try and figure out what each individual’s role or responsibility is going to be,” he said. “Even once you start the tournament, you’re still trying to tweak the roster and figure out who’s best situated for what, whether it’s power play or penalty kill.”
Skinner’s goal for the championships is for his team to make the semi-finals.
“You’ve got to get to the semi-finals in order to win a medal,” he said. “I always believed that our kids are more than capable of playing at this level. So you have to set your goals high.”
The male Team North has won one medal in the past – a silver in 2015.
The team consists of players up to 18 years of age. Those would be players who turned 18 after Dec. 31 and who would still be considered midget players.
Yellowknife’s Kaylee Grant, an assistant with the female Team North, said the competition at the NAHC is incredible.
“I think every year we just go in looking to build on female hockey and have a good compete level,” she said. “Last year was the best the female team has ever placed, which was seventh out of 10 teams. This year there are only nine. But that’s a pretty amazing feat and it just means that female hockey is growing and developing in the North, and that’s really great to see.”
Grant expects the female players, who will be aged from 13 to 18, to play every game as hard as they can.
Like the male team, the female team will get together for the first time for a training camp and team bonding in Whitehorse just before the championships.
“It’s really important for us to have a lot of team bonding moments in those days leading up to the games,” said Grant.
The tournament in Whitehorse will be the first time the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships will be held in the North.