For Team North’s girls, it’s a year where the future will get a chance to show what they can do.
For Team North’s boys, it’s a year where they have a new-found reputation to uphold.
The 2017 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships get underway in Cowichan, B.C., on May 1 and Team North, made up of players from all three territories, will once again take on the rest of the country to try and win one of the biggest minor hockey prizes up for grabs in the country.
The girls squad will be led by head coach Candace MacEachen of Whitehorse with Yellowknife’s Kaylee Grant serving as her assistant.
Both ladies are familiar with one another as they were part of last year’s coaching squad and Grant said the philosophies are the same.
“We both think along the same lines when it comes to preparation and strategy and we’ve worked well together in the past,” she said.
This year’s outfit will be a younger squad but there are some experienced players returning to the mix, including Susie Chambers and Sahara Lafferty.
Grant said girls hockey in the North experiences ups and downs and this is a year where the younger players will get a chance to shine.
“We lost players like Shakita Jensen and Davina McLeod but we still have a strong group,” she said. “It’s not an Arctic Winter Games year so we weren’t able to get a good look at what was out there but our job was to find all of the eligible players we could and I think we have a real competitive team.”
The girls finished eighth one year ago, meaning they will be in Division 1 with Saskatchewan, the defending champions, Alberta and B.C., all of which are strong teams and all capable of coming loaded offensively.
Grant said job no. 1 will be looking after their own end of the ice first and taking the chances when they come.
“We don’t really know the ability of all the girls and so the strategy could change, depending on what we see in front of us,” she said. “It could be a box-plus-1 system or we build a trap with a 1-2-2 setup. Situations change all the time so we’ll adjust and change when we have to.”
The boys, meanwhile, have quite the task ahead of them as they go into this year’s tournament as the reigning silver medalists, having lost the gold medal game to B.C. last year in Mississauga, Ont. Like the girls, they will be up against Alberta and Saskatchewan but will play Manitoba, last year’s bronze medalists.
Yellowknifer attempted to contact Ryan O’Connor, assistant coach for the boys team, but he wasn’t available as of press time.
Both teams are departing Yellowknife tomorrow and will head to Nanaimo, B.C., for a three-day training camp that begins on Friday leading up to the start of the tournament. They will also each have an exhibition game against Team Atlantic on May 30.
“They’re in the same boat we are,” said Grant of Team Atlantic. “They’re having their camp when they arrive here and we traditionally play them in exhibition before we get going.”
Both teams will open up against Alberta on May 1.