It’s been a couple of years since the NWT last competed in table tennis at the Canada Winter Games.
This year could also be the last time we see a team from the NWT at the Canada Games in table tennis.
Table Tennis North hosted its second and final set of trials for the big show in Red Deer, Alta., this coming February in Yellowknife on Nov. 24 and 25 and from those trials came six players who will don the territory’s colours.
Thorsten Gohl, Table Tennis North’s executive director, said the emphasis isn’t about winning but about being a good team.
“We want the kids to have a good experience, do the best they can, cheer for their teammates and enjoy everything about it,” he said.
The team was chosen using a mixture of skills and tournament play with points up for grabs in each discipline. Every skills camp a player took part in was worth five points to a maximum of 20 points per weekend of trials. There were also a tournament in every trial weekend with points awarded for a top-eight finish. The winner of a tournament received 10 points, runner-up eight points and all the way down to one point for eighth place.
If a player went to every skills camp and won both tournaments, they could max out at 60 points.
Gohl said the trials in both Fort Providence last month and Yellowknife late last month went as well as they could have.
“It was great to see the kids get out there and playing,” he said. “From the first set of trials to now, the improvement is obvious and that’s the key. They need to be playing other kids and getting game experience.”
Shannan Bonnetrouge of Fort Providence was one of the lucky ones who made the team. Only three girls tried out for the team and with three spots available, that meant she had made the final cut automatically but it was still exciting for her to be able to know she was going to get a uniform.
“I’ve been playing now for about three years,” she said. “I always played for the fun of it but then Thorsten saw me doing backhands and he asked me to start practising with him after school.”
Having Gohl as her coach is a bonus as he’s already based in the community, which makes it easy to get the necessary coaching, she added.
“He’s always helped me in the mornings and after school,” she said.
All of the players themselves know they won’t be in contention for a medal of any sort and there are no illusions of grandeur among them whatsoever.
Bonnetrouge said it’s going to be a challenge and she’s just hoping to be competitive as she can be.
“I’m hoping to return some shots, that’s what I’m hoping for,” she said.
The traditional powerhouses of table tennis in Canada are Ontario, B.C., and Quebec with strong teams coming out of Alberta and Manitoba, said Gohl.
“Those provinces know they’re the top ones because they’re participating in all of the big national events,” he said. “Our kids will be playing in a major national event for the first time in Red Deer so they’ll be nervous but this will be exciting for them. All 13 provinces and territories will be there.”
According to the Canada Games Council, the last time the NWT competed in table tennis was 1979 and while it will be 40 years when the Games in Red Deer begin since the territory last played, it could be the last time for a while as table tennis will not be a part of the program for the 2023 Games.
Gohl said Table Tennis Canada is trying to re-enter the sport for the 2025 Canada Summer Games.
“This will be a big one for our kids because it could be the last one we get to play in for a long time,” he said. “Table Tennis Canada is trying its best to get it back and if we do get back, we’ll become a summer sport.”
FACT FILE – Canada Winter Games table tennis team
Conner McKay-Ivanko, Hay River
Nikhilesh Gohil, Yellowknife
David Dragon, Yellowknife
Shannan Bonnetrouge, Fort Providence
Monika Kunderlik, Yellowknife
Gracie Brennan, Yellowknife
source: Table Tennis North