There are usually two big hockey tournaments that happen around this time of year in Yellowknife. One hasn’t been held seen since 2019 while the other showed signs of life one year ago.
That latter tournament came back in a big way.
The Canadian North Balsillie Cup, back for its 39th edition, wrapped up on April 10 at the Multiplex. Five divisions were in play over the course of the tournament with five new champions skating away with the honours. The Balsillie Cup itself was contested in the A Division as the HBC Havoc took on Kavanaugh in what turned out to be a very entertaining final. The Havoc came away 3-2 winners but not before the result was decided in a shootout.
The Havoc held down a 2-1 lead late in the third period but Kavanaugh was handed a power-play late in the final frame and took full advantage of it, potting the equalizer with the man advantage to send it to sudden-death overtime. That solved nothing, meaning it was off to a best-of-three shootout with each team getting three shooters. Kavanaugh scored with their first shooter while the Havoc failed to score.
The Havoc made good on their second shot while goaltender Scott Thomson, playing in place of Johnnie Bowden, who was in Ontario for the birth of his granddaughter, shut the door on Kavanaugh’s second shooter. HBC’s third shooter was also able to score and Thomson stopped Kavanaugh’s third shot to seal the win for the Havoc.
“Both teams had a few chances in overtime but we couldn’t get anything,” said Havoc defenceman Ryan Nichols. “Scott came up big for us in the shootout.”
It was the two best teams in the A Division going for it in the end — both went undefeated all the way through the round-robin and the playoffs until the final.
“We won the game that meant the most,” said Nichols.
Fort Smith, one of the out-of-town teams that made the trip for this year’s tournament, made it worth the drive up Highway 3 as they beat the DCL Jets to win the B Division crown. The Crowe MacKay Blasters captured the C Division title thanks to a shootout win over Ron’s while Buds North defeated JTFN to win the D Division.
The Women’s Division was back for another go-round with five teams from Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson doing battle and it would be an all-capital final with the Rebels beating the Renegades, 7-2, for the title.
Conan Donahue, president of the Yk Oldtimers Hockey League, said the ladies, who first played in their own division in 2019, have brought a breath of fresh air to the tournament.
“It isn’t a hard sell for the ladies to play and there’s usually two or three teams from out of town that come in to play,” he said. “It just adds that much more going on in the tournament and they look like they’re having a great time.”
In addition to the teams from Fort Smith, there were entries from Whati and Behchoko for this year’s event and Donahue said it’s a sign that things are getting back to what they once were.
“I won’t say it’s going to go back to completely normal but it’s going toward something resembling normal,” he said. “I can see it getting back to the old format as it was before with all those little extras, like the hospitality room, but that all depends on whether we’re allowed to do it.”
Nichols said it felt like a Balsillie Cup of old — somewhat.
“It had a feeling of what it was before,” he said. “Nice to have the fans back in the stands and the beer garden back and to play teams from outside Yellowknife again.”