So we have a new soccer tournament to call our own in town known as the New Year’s Kick-Off. New in the sense that it’s the inaugural edition and if the Yellowknife Bay Soccer Club has its way, it will become the new tradition over the holidays.

In saying that, I’ll add my voice to Don Stewart, one of the new tournament’s organizers, who praised the work of Vivian Hansen in making the Merry Kickmas tournament what it was for so many years. A lot of grunt work goes into organizing a tournament of that size and Hansen needs to be thanked for that and everything else she’s done for soccer over the years.

In talking with Stewart, he made a point to me that hit a chord, so to speak. Stewart thinks the Sundogs program, the nickname of the soccer club, has the potential to become the new version of the Yellowknife Wolfpack, the minor hockey program that has seen the city’s hockey players get the chance to become better than they already are.

He points to the fact that soccer has become a 12-month-a-year deal now in Yellowknife with young players getting the chance to play both indoor and outdoor on a regular basis. He’s not wrong because the Sundogs do have a season that starts indoors and goes outside as soon as the climate wants to change. And they’re doing the same thing in summer as indoors at the Fieldhouse, only on a larger surface.

Not like that hasn’t been the case for years and years in Yellowknife. We have no choice but to head indoors when winter comes because, well, as weather-hardened as we are in this part of the world, playing outdoor soccer at -30 C isn’t my idea of a good time nor anyone else. Pond hockey is one thing because you can skate but imagine getting hit by the frozen ball.

Anyway, you see where I’m going with this – indoor soccer has been part of the culture of the sport in the North for many years.

Do I agree with Stewart when he thinks the Sundogs can become the soccer version of the Wolfpack? I won’t disagree with him.

Shannon Mercer, left, and Alexis Head walk off the field after the Sundogs lost to Manitoba at the U-15 Cup girls tournament in Calgary, part of Canada Soccer’s Toyota Club Nationals, this past October. The team’s results were some of the best the North has had in recent times and it could continue.
photo courtesy of Ollie Williams

The one thing the Sundogs have going for it is a structure. Joe Acorn is the face of the Sundogs and has done a masterful job in making the program one which has become very popular. It’s become so big that he needed help behind the scenes to keep it going. That’s where Roxane Poulin comes in. Poulin makes sure the only thing Acorn has to worry about is soccer while she looks after everything else off the field.

Another thing Acorn does is make everyone understand that the Sundogs isn’t something that’s meant to be recreational. He sits the parents down at the beginning of every season and lays it out with no grey area – he expects that the kids will be at practice every time, he expects that they’re committed and he expects that they will work hard. I know this because my eldest daughter played with the Sundogs one season and I got the chat.

I can’t speak for anyone else but I loved it. Someone who knows that the only way to be successful is to have everyone buy into what he’s selling and lay it out there for everyone to see. If they aren’t willing to commit, then the program isn’t for them. Plain and simple. No mixed messages.

Of course, there are probably some parents who don’t like that way of thinking and those are the ones who don’t understand why Acorn does what he does. This isn’t some house-league deal where everything is watered down to the lowest common denominator and everything is fair so the one kid who can’t keep up or isn’t as good feels like a superstar. There are no participation trophies with Acorn and even if I’m the only one who’s not afraid to publicly state that’s a good thing, I know there are more people than just I who think the same way.

The big boost for the Sundogs came this past fall when the U15 girls outfit played at the Toyota U-15 Cup in Calgary, which is part of Canada Soccer’s national championship program. It had been forever since Yellowknife sent a youth girls team to a national tournament outside of the Canada Summer Games and they didn’t disappoint. Sure, they lost more than they won (even if I think they could have won more than they lost) but the rest of the country got a glimpse of what they could encounter the next time they take us on.

There’s a much different feeling when you’re losing by one or two goals as opposed to one or two dozen goals. Instead of wondering what in the actual hell you’re doing out there against the opposition, you end up thinking about what might have been. You get angry because you lost by one goal. And it’s a good angry. You think to yourself that the result could have been different had one shot or one play gone your way. I felt like that whenever I lost a softball game by one run. At least with a blowout, I knew who the better team was. A one-goal/point/run loss means my team could have won and that pissed me right off.

One question lingers, though: what about futsal? It’s becoming the indoor game of choice and it got a big boost when Kyt Selaidopoulos, the men’s national team head coach, came to town late last year. Short answer: don’t worry. Futsal is a different game than indoor and outdoor soccer. Smaller ball, smaller dimensions. The one thing futsal brings to the table is a chance for players to work on the mechanics and there’s never a bad time to get back to basics.

No matter how I slice it, I can totally see the Sundogs becoming the new Wolfpack in years to come. I’m hesitant to say it will happen now or next year or even two years but all of the building blocks are there. I predict I will be writing about the Sundogs coming home with hardware sooner rather than later.

And not just a participation trophy.

James McCarthy

I've been hanging around the office as the sports editor for the better part of the last 16 years. In August 2022, NNSL Media decided to promote me to the managing editor's position, which I accepted after...

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