There are very few events in Yellowknife where almost the entire city has a stake in it.
Perhaps you played in it. Perhaps you have a son or daughter who played in it. Perhaps you went to one of the schools playing in it. Perhaps you have a student going to one of those schools playing today at the Multiplex.
The Wade Hamer Challenge Cup returns to the ice after a two-plus-year absence and it’s not hard to tell that both Sir John Franklin and St. Pat’s are both raring to go. This is the one game nobody wants to lose. Sure, it’s all in the name of fair play, fun and all that, but there’s that little thing called bragging rights. Lose and you’ll have to hear about it. And then read about it in Friday’s Yellowknifer.
In talking with Peter Curran at Sir John Franklin and Rob Hart at St. Pat’s, they’re ready. It won’t take much for the players to get up for the day. Some of them have never played in this event before, but they’ve probably been told about the history behind it. Hart and Curran know it well: they’ve both suited up in the Challenge Cup before and they know the pressure the players are under. You hate to say that, but you know those players are as nervous as ever.
What makes the game so exciting is that the fervor carries over beyond the ice surface. Both schools slap on the face paint, do up some signage, tape up the streamers and balloons on the bleachers and just plain go nuts. Some of them know they’ve got the afternoon off from school and take full advantage of it, but a lot of students want that experience of being there for the action and swept up in the emotions.
Of course, the mascots from both schools will have a dance-off in between games, meaning you’ll get to see an overgrown falcon and a full-size leprechaun trying to outdo each other while attempting to stay upright on the ice. St. Pat’s may even have a skating Jesus with the Irish flag to show off. Sir John Franklin doesn’t have that, but they’ll have someone with a megaphone making funny remarks.
And to think some going into today wouldn’t have had a clue about the whole thing because they’ve never experienced it.
The pandemic meant that anyone in Grade 9 (or, in the case of St. Pat’s, Grade 8) in September 2020 has neither seen nor heard of this game. That wasn’t lost on either Curran or Hart. They both said plenty of staff and students didn’t even know what the big deal was. Hart went so far as to say that around half of the current staff at St. Pat’s were wondering why it was such a big deal.
They’ll soon find out.
Today is one of those days when school spirit will be out in full force. Both sides will root against each other for about a couple of hours or so, and then realize that they have to co-exist the following day. A lot of these players are teammates on other teams outside of school; almost everyone playing will be lining up for the Canada Winter Games in February (and most likely the Arctic Winter Games in January, depending how trials go next month), so you can’t really carry a grudge. It is, after all, just a hockey game. A big hockey game, but a hockey game nonetheless. The difference is it’s just one game out of many these players will suit up for.
If you’re going today, here’s hoping your team wins. Go (insert your favourite team here)!