This year saw two things happen at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships that never have before and both involved the girls team.
The girls ended up finishing sixth overall – the highest-ever finish for a Team North girls squad – and for the first time, they finished ahead of the boys.
The 2019 edition of the tournament wrapped up in Whitehorse on May 12 and while team North wasn’t in any of the medal games, they gave themselves chances to do so. The girls managed to get to the quarter-final round, but came out on the wrong end of a 3-0 decision at the hands of B.C. It was nearly a carbon copy of the result from the round-robin, where the girls were defeated, 3-1.
Getting to the quarter-final round was a chore in itself as the girls had to take the long route to do it. Two round-robin losses to B.C. and Saskatchewan meant they had to play their way in through the qualification round, starting with a game against Eastern Door and North (ED&N) on May 9 and it was the real Team North which came to play in that game as they shut the door with a big 7-0 win.
Danica Taylor, the lone Yellowknife player on the girls team, said the qualification round was where the girls started to click as a unit.
“In our first two games, we were still getting comfortable with each other and getting our styles together,” she said. “We knew we had to win from that point on against ED&N so we went for broke and got the result we were looking for.”
Next up was New Brunswick later that evening and it was another dominating performance that led to a 5-1 win and a spot in the quarter-final round proper.
“The quarter-finals were on the line and everyone was so nervous and anxious,” said Taylor. “We wanted to get the first goal and get the momentum on our side and we did that. We stepped it up a level and we were just trying to click on offence because we didn’t expect them to be as fast as they were.”
In the quarter-final rematch with B.C., the girls gave up two quick goals to put them under pressure right away and they weren’t able to claw their way back. From there, it was off to the placement round, where they ended up losing the fifth-place game to Team Atlantic, 5-1.
Taylor said it didn’t end as well as the team would have liked but there were some good reasons why.
“We lost five of our teammates through a series of unfortunate events,” she said. “Some were injured, some had to leave to go to camps and some were suspended. We still did a lot better than 2018; I would give it a seven out of 10 and being higher than the boys was awesome.”
As for the boys, they had a mixed bag in the round-robin. They began with a 4-3 win over Ontario but fell to Manitoba, 4-1, putting them in the qualification round. Unlike the girls, they weren’t able to move any further than game one as Ontario won the rematch between the two teams, 5-2. That meant the best they could do was fifth place and they were on the way to that result after beating New Brunswick, 3-1, but a 5-2 loss to ED&N spelled the end of their tournament and what was an eighth place finish.
Individually, Liam Tereposky was named the top goaltender of the tournament on the boys side.
That was bumped up to seventh following the dismissal of Alberta from the tournament before the gold medal game. According to a press release from the tournament organizers, Alberta was shown the door after the team didn’t change its travel itinerary heading home.
This was the first time Team North had been the home team in the tournament’s history and Taylor said the atmosphere was incredible.
“We had lots of support for every game and we had our spirit stick for every game,” she said.
The spirit stick was gifted to Team North by William Carlick, an elder with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. The stick is now in Saskatchewan, the site for the 2020 edition of the tournament.