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Fifty-six teams to hit the ice for 2024 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament

The Yukon Native Hockey Tournament is now in its 44th year. Pictured is 2020 tournament action at Takhini Arena in Whitehorse. Yukon News file photo

There are not many places where you could catch 99 hockey games in just four days, but the Yukon Native Hockey Tournament is one of them.

That’s how many games are scheduled to take place between 56 teams across seven divisions this month. The tournament, now in its 44th year, kicks off on March 21 and runs until March 24.

“Every year, it just kind of sneaks up,” said Michelle Dawson-Beattie on March 13. Dawson Beattie is the president of the Yukon First Nations Hockey Association. “We start planning in December, and then you blink, and you’re like, `Oh my god, we’re a week out.”’

She said the planning is progressing smoothly, though, with 31 Yukon teams, 14 from British Columbia and another 11 from the NWT and Nunavut. That’s just one team shy of the tournament’s maximum capacity.

Over the course of the weekend, teams will play at the Canada Games Centre and Takhini Arena. Divisions include A (competitive), B (recreational), C (community), Old Timers, Women’s, the Jamboree A and B divisions and the youth division.

Dawson-Beattie said there are prizes all weekend. Winning teams in each division get a cash prize. Individual players in each division are also up for MVP, top scorer, top goalie and more. In the jamboree and youth divisions, there are team spirit awards and the Sandi Gleason Award. Both of these are given out at every game, said Dawson-Beattie, to encourage sportsmanship among younger players.

That’s one of the things she loves about the tournament, and why she’s been involved in putting it together for the last six years, she said.

“It’s not just about a hockey tournament,” said Dawson-Beattie. “It’s about celebrating First Nations community … this tournament might be the biggest platform some of these athletes will ever play on and when they play in front of their grandparents and their friends and their families? If I can enable a good path for them, to make positive choices, that’s what it does for me.”

Morris Morrison agrees. He’s been playing in the tournament for as long as he can remember. He started in the youth division in the early 2000s and worked his way up through the C, B, and A divisions, to where he’s now the captain of the A-division team, the Selkirk Bears, a team he’s been part of for more than 10 years.

Morrison told the News he appreciates that the tournament attracts teams from across the North—from communities of people he might not otherwise meet and connect with.

“The event provides an opportunity for friends and families to get together, and it fosters a sense of community and celebration through friendly competition,” he said.

Like Dawson-Beattie, Morrison also appreciates hockey for what it’s taught him beyond just hockey skills.

“Growing up in Pelly Crossing, there wasn’t really any kind of organized sports, so being a younger person and loving the sport so much, I had to play with a lot of older adults in Pelly,” he said. “Sport not only develops independence, it develops leadership and teamwork, which is huge for life experience. To this day I’m still a huge advocate for sport and recreation for those reasons.”

He said it’s also a point of pride to play for the Selkirk Bears. The team has a strong fan base in Pelly, he said.

“The positive impact of our team spans generations,” he said. “From the youngest children to the elderly.”

In addition to more hockey than you can slash a stick at, Dawson-Beattie said Pelly Construction has sponsored a celebrity guest for the first time this year.

Andrew Ference, who was captain of the Edmonton Oilers for two years, from 2013 to 2015, and retired from the NHL in 2016, will visit during the tournament.

Ference will be at the Canada Games Centre on the morning of March 22 for a meet and greet with anyone who’d like to meet him. That night, he’s part of a reception for sponsors and dignitaries and will watch an A division game, in which the Selkirk Bears will play the loser from an earlier game between LJ’s Sabres and the Blueberry FN Weekend Warriors.

Morrison said he’s advised his team to come together and have fun.

“Like, I tell the guys every year, the game could go any way, depending on the momentum,” he said. “Work hard and stay focused … anything can happen during the 60 minutes you’re playing.”

The full schedule can be found online at Weekend passes (only sold on Thursday) are $40 for adults, $25 for youth and elders, and free for those four and under. Day passes are $20 for adults and $15 for youth and seniors.

—By Amy Kenny, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Yukon News

Amy Kenny, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Amy Kenny, Local Journalism Initiative

I moved from Hamilton, Ontario, to the Yukon in 2016 and joined the Yukon News as the Local Journalism Initaitive reporter in 2023.
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