Jonathan Eetoolook has dreams of following in the footsteps of Jordin Tootoo. Darius Aleekee wants to use hockey as a way to get an education.

They both love hockey and they’ll get a chance to take a big step toward their goals this season in Ontario.

The pair from Taloyoak are in Gravenhurst, Ont., – roughly a two-hour drive north of Toronto – with the South Muskoka Shield Jr. A squad of the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League, which counts teams from Ontario, Quebec and Alberta among its ranks. They arrived at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Nov. 14.

Troy Kahler is the team’s president and director of player development and he said the boys approached the organization to see what options were available.

“We talked about what they wanted to do with hockey and so I put them in touch with Scott Wallace, one of our players who comes from Nunavut,” he said.

Wallace hails from Rankin Inlet and has already spent one season with the Shield.

“They had a conversation between each other and (Scott) talked about what it takes to be here and the differences between living in Ontario and Nunavut,” said Kahler. “Jonathan has dreams, Darius has dreams, I had dreams of being a hockey player but there’s lots of learning curves. I wanted the boys to get a good idea of what being here would look like and hearing it from someone from Nunavut who’s been here and can relate.”

Eetoolook originally wanted to go to Toronto and see if he could play there this season but those plans dried up due to a problem a lot of people from the North face.

“It cost too much money and I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “I just stopped thinking about it but I found a sponsorship and that helped me get here (to Gravenhurst).”

That sponsorship consisted of grants for both Eetoolook and Aleekee from the Indigenous Kids Network and the Inuit Child First Initiative, the latter of which is operated by the Government of Canada. That gives Inuit youth up to the age of 18 the chance to access social, educational and health programs with help from the federal government.

“We helped the boys get letters written up so they could apply for those grants,” said Kahler.

The boys aren’t part of the main roster just yet – they’ll be on the development squad to start off, which they’ll suit up for beginning this coming week, and will have the chance to work their way into the line-up, said Kahler.

“That’s part of the learning curve and they know that,” he said. “They’ve been watching practices and they’re seeing what it’s all about. They know they’ll have to work hard to make it but we’ll show them how to get there and give them every chance to crack the line-up.”

Off the ice, Aleekee said he’s enjoyed what he’s seen so far.

“There’s lots of nice people down here and a lot more stores,” he said. “It’s a bit more strict with the masks than it was back home but that’s OK. The people we live with have been really nice, also.”

Kahler echoed that last sentiment.

“They’re living with the same family that billets Scott and they’ve been really gracious to the boys,” he said. “(The family has) been telling me the boys are helping out with everything around the house and have been very respectful.”

The pair will eventually go to school in Gravenhurst but they’re going through an assessment on where they’re at.

Kahler said they’ll probably enter school for the start of a new semester in January and in the meantime, they’re working with a tutor from the Literacy Society of South Muskoka.

They will also have plenty of off-ice work in terms of fitness, he added.

“They’ll get strength training, instruction on proper nutrition, keeping their muscle mass up,” he said. “They’ll find out quickly if this is for them but if they have the right attitude, there’s no reason why they can’t be successful.”

Eetoolook said he’s ready for the challenge.

“I’m looking for a way to try and be like Jordin Tootoo,” he said. “I want to play in the National Hockey League one day and this is a good chance for me to do that.”

Aleekee isn’t dreaming of a professional hockey career. He wants to become a doctor and is hoping hockey can help him get there.

“I’d like to go to university in Ottawa and be able to play there also,” he said.

Being so far away from home isn’t too bad yet, he added.

“I call my family every day to say hi,” he said. “I don’t miss home yet.”

Kahler said he knows this is a big move for Eetoolook and Aleekee but he wants to make sure they have every chance to be successful because, as he put it, every player matters.

“Both sides are taking a chance here,” he said. “They’re taking a chance on their life goals and we’ve taken a chance on these boys but that’s how good things happen. We want to give them that chance to experience life in a different place. We have players from all different backgrounds: players of African descent, players of French descent and now players of Inuit descent. There’s always good stories to be told out there and if they have that dedication to get better every day, it’s going to be a happy ending for them.”

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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