In 2011, Yellowknife played host to the Canadian Men’s Para-Hockey Team so it only made sense that the women’s squad would follow suit.
It took them a couple of years to do it but they finally came North and have made it a very important week for the team.
The Canadian Women’s Para-Hockey Team is hosting its team selection camp in the capital and everything got underway on Monday morning at the Multiplex. It’s the first time the team has been together as a unit since the pandemic began; the last camp of this sort was in 2019 with camps in between time being either regional get-togethers or virtual meetings.
The task of putting together the national team belongs to head coach Tara Chisholm and she’s been getting a good look at the players who are vying for a chance to wear the maple leaf in international competition.
She said Yellowknife was chosen as one of the sites for a camp when the team put in a grant request.
“We received funding from the Hockey Canada Foundation and in our ask, we actually wanted Yellowknife as one of our camp locations,” she said. “Because of Covid-19, we had to keep delaying our selection camp because it wasn’t safe to travel yet. Yellowknife was next on our agenda and so we decided to bring everyone here.”
The feeling among the ladies when they got the news that they would be heading North? Genuine excitement.
“A lot of them were so excited because many of them have never been here before,” said Chisholm. “The passion among this group, as much as it is playing, is to spread the awareness of para-hockey around Canada. Anytime we get the chance to go into a new community, especially a new territory, they’re very excited to meet the people on the ground and see the amazing work being done here.”
Day one of the camp on Monday saw the ladies hit the ice for their first practice, followed by on and off-ice fitness testing. Each subsequent day of the camp has seen the team practice in the morning with grassroots training sessions in the afternoons. The only exception was Thursday as there was nothing scheduled on-ice for the ladies. Mixed in to the schedule were two Red vs. White intrasquad games and the first of those games happened on Wednesday evening with Team White emerging victorious in overtime, 3-2.
Chisholm said a lot of what goes on this week will make up a sizable chunk of the decision-making that will go into choosing the team.
“We’ll be picking the top women from the high-performance group that will represent the country at the Women’s World Challenge happening this summer,” she said.
Where that will be exactly is still a mystery but Chisholm said it will be happening somewhere in North America.
One of the people who was heavily involved in getting the team to come is Sharon Oldford, whose son, Riley, is one of the most well-known para-hockey players in the city.
Oldford said it’s a full-circle sort of deal when it comes to having the team here.
“In 2018, (men’s para-hockey player) Tyler McGregor came to do a player development session for us and Tara and Derek (Whitson, women’s assistant coach) came up that spring to do a coaching clinic,” she said. “We formed a bit of a relationship with them over the years and so when it was time to do a camp for the women, we were very excited that they chose to come here. It’s come full-circle, in a way.”
Being that it’s selection camp makes it mean a bit more, she added.
“These ladies are out there fighting for their chance to be on the national team and that’s exciting to watch,” she said.
Before the Red vs. White game on Wednesday, the community got the chance to strap on a sled and head out onto the ice to give it a try and the turnout was rather impressive, said Oldford.
”When the men came in 2011, there was a really good turnout and I thought they might have to take shifts,” she said. “This time, we did have to take shifts and seeing so many people come out to try it was amazing.”
One of those giving it a try was Nevaeh Dusome, who said it was her second time strapping herself into a sled.
“It was really fun,” she said “I liked learning more about it. Every time I fell, I just got back up. I tell people it’s really fun and it’s not as hard as it looks.”
When she’s not trying out para-hockey, Leah McShane can be found on the cross-country ski trails and she said being in a sled is similar to what she does out on the trails.
“The last time I did it, I was six, which was seven years ago,” she said. “I have an idea of how it works now and skiing helps because it’s almost the same motion as double-poling.”
Para-hockey does have a foothold as part of the Yk Minor Hockey Association as there is already a Saturday morning session when the season is on.
Oldford said the numbers have reached the point where there is enough to field at least one team but there is room to grow.
“The goal is to have enough for two teams,” she said. “We’d really like to have them play against one another so that’s our next step. We also have a goal next year of starting an adult program. I’ve had lots of adults asking about playing so that would be another exciting opportunity.”