For the first time in three years, the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships returned to the ice and that meant Team North was hard at it once again.
The boys team, made up of players from Nunavut, the NWT and Yukon, kicked things off on May 9 in Membertou, N.S., against Saskatchewan in the opening game of the boys tournament and were on the wrong end of an 8-5 decision against one of the better teams in the draw. The highlight in that contest was Iqaluit’s Bradley Fraser, who scored four of the team’s goals. They would right the ship later in the day by beating B.C., 6-4.
Manitoba was the opposition the following day and that ended in a 6-3 defeat — Yellowknife’s Emmery Golchert had two goals in a losing effort in that one — but Wednesday was a winning day as the boys knocked off Team Atlantic, 7-4. McKinley Talbot of Yellowknife scored his first goal of the tournament in that one.
Their record of two wins and two losses in the round-robin was good enough to get them into the qualification round and another crack at B.C. on Thursday.
Prior to that contest, Talbot said things were rolling along nicely.
“A .500 record is good,” he said. “It’s always good to win some games and get the confidence up. We got the hang of it as we went on.”
Problem is B.C. did’t co-operate in the playoff contest as Team North fell by a score of 7-5. That meant the boys didn’t advance to the medal round and could finish no higher than fifth in the relegation round. They played Manitoba again in their first game of the day, followed by Team Atlantic in the evening.
Hay River’s Owen Pettipas, who was in goal for both of the wins, was watching from the bench for that game and said it was disappointing to lose that way.
“Just a bad turn of events and it’s tough because we beat them already,” he said. “We had a couple of chances on the power-play but we just couldn’t get it and fell into a hole late in the third.”
The boys all met in Winnipeg at the beginning of this month to get to know each other and get some practice time in.
Talbot said it didn’t take long for the boys to come together as a team.
“I knew the Yukon guys from playing with them on the (Yukon) Rivermen team a couple of years ago, and Emmery and Crew, of course, but we all got along really quickly,” he said.
This will be Talbot’s first and last time playing in the tournament — he’ll be too old for next year as it’s U18 — and he said it was everything he thought it would be.
“It’s how I envisioned it going,” he said. “We’ve done a lot better than we set out to do, we got into the groove really quickly and we had good rhythm.”
Pettipas is able to get one more crack next year and he said he’s looking forward to going back next year, if he’s chosen.
“I’m hoping we can do a bit better next year,” he said. “We thought we had a good chance at getting a medal after a good round-robin but I’m looking to next year.”