hockey teams teams hit the well-polished ice pads at Fisherman’s Wharf on Hay River last weekend to mark the return of the Polar Pond Hockey tournment.

Saturday evening (March 12) featured a special alumni night and live auction featuring political leaders, tournament organizers and athletes which helped raise toward a new electronic ice-resurfacing machine for the Town of Hay River.

Tourney entrants, the Nut Jobs, were a hit at the weekend tournament because of their squirrel uniforms. From left are Jennifer Saffrey, Jacky Kruger, Hillary Fisher, Paula Gour, N’teish Mandeville, Rhona Cruzpe, and Avery Beaton. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

The weekend was highlighted by elite hockey players supporting the international Save Pond Hockey organization’s effort to raise awareness about how climate change is affecting pond hockey.

Former Edmonton Oilers Craig MacTavish, Andrew Ference, and Curtis Glencross along with Canadian Women’s Olympic -gold-medalist Meghan Agosta all added to the excitement of the event, including with their involvement in an all-star game with local players, March 13.

Ference, a Stanley Cup winner with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and former captain of the Edmonton Oilers, made a strong connection between playing hockey and the need to respectful to the environment as well as others.

During his alumni night speech March 12, he recalled his time with the Calgary Flames in 2004 and befriending environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki.

“We had a really good group of guys that cared about doing the right thing,” he explained.

“We talk a lot about respect in hockey and how important it is to show respect for your teammates and for your opponents and for your community. At the end of the day, that’s really how I see it as hockey players. We have a duty to respect our land and Mother Earth and to understand our connection to that land.”

MacTavish said that he was happy to contribute to the live auction of memorabilia, play and support the sport and learn a bit about climate change in the North, too.

“It was a fantastic weekend and a lot of fun for everybody,” he said. “Great community spirit and it seemed everybody came out to the live auction, which was fantastic. It was well supported and we raised a lot of money for local charities.

“This is what Canada is all about.”

MacTavish said some of the challenges the North faces as it comes to climate change came to him as a surprise, including the rate at which the environment is changing due to global temperatures.

Preserving pond hockey is important in reinforcing “the fabric of Canada,” he said.

“Pond hockey is great for the development of hockey players. When they’re out there playing, that is how you get good.”

Town of Hay River

Several staff and town councillors turned up to take in the weekend’s celebrations with residents and visitors.

Stephane Millette, director of recreation said as with every tournament, the event is important for the community to have a gathering around sport and to welcome warmer weather.

But this year was special as it came after two years of Covid-19 gathering limits and was marked by the new icew-surfacing-machine legacy project.

He said the new device will make a difference to the town, but the final figures have to be solidified over the next few weeks before the municipality can make a move on purchasing.

“We’re not confirmed on the climate sport initiative and their contribution but we’ll have that figured out in the next little bit,” he said. “It sounds like they’ve got possibly some national or international sponsors that still may be chipping in.”

Millette said the town is eyeing two companies at the moment and aims to have a purchase in the near term.

“Our two resurfacers right now are doing fine but we need to replace our main resurfacer within the next three years,” he said. “To be able to bump up the schedule even earlier is fantastic.”

Donna Lee Demarcke, chief executive officer of Northwest Territories Tourism was part of The Stanley Cupcakes ladies team.

“It has been a phenomenal and amazing weekend,” she said. “I have been so excited to be able to do this again and to have people come to Hay River to take part in this.

“I talked to quite a few people who told me that this was their first time to Hay River, that they were so excited to be here and said they’re coming back again.”

Demarcke said the most significant part of the weekend was that Polar Pond Hockey was the last big event that Hay River had in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic prevented most large public gatherings.

“Hay River is also really good at welcoming people and with the few new people here that have never been before a big part of the weekend was being able to show them what we do and how much fun we have here and welcome them.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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