Heading into the semifinals on Thursday, the Northwest Territories’ Arctic Winter Games female hockey team has their eye on repeating their gold performance from the Games in Nuuk.
While defending their title is important to the players, they have also been focused on rallying behind teammate Regan Bulger, whose dad Carl Bulger died suddenly earlier this month.
The news sent shockwaves through the hockey community in Yellowknife, where the 14-year-old Regan is from. Since the news broke, Regan’s teammates have been doing all they can to support her on and off the ice.
“We’re just trying to be as strong as we can for Regan right now,” said Sarah Flemming, who plays on the same midget team as Regan in Yellowknife.
Carl was a well-known athlete and a huge supporter of youth sports in the family’s hometown. Among other things, he was a long-time sponsor of minor hockey, including the midget team that several of the NWT girls currently play on.
“Every game and every practice he came and supported every single one of us girls. He cheered, he would give us great advice. He was just the man,” said Flemming. “You could say he was ‘The Hockey Dad.'”
To show their support for Regan, each girl is sporting a sticker on the back of their helmets which reads “Carl #13.” The only exception is Regan whose sticker reads “Daddy’s girl.”
After a tough 4-2 loss against Alaska on Wednesday night, Regan said the support from her teammates has meant the world to her.
“It’s been really difficult so it’s really nice to have the team behind me and helping me push through this,” she said.
Assistant coach Kaylee Grant said Regan has been showing tremendous poise on an off the ice, given the circumstances. She even scored a beautiful goal against Alberta North on Tuesday.
“That was a big goal for her,” Grant said. “The girls were definitely excited.”
After finishing 3-1 in the round robin, the Northwest Territories is guaranteed a spot in Thursday’s semifinals. As of publication, the final seeding was yet to be determined with two games left to play.
The girls know it won’t be easy to defend their title, especially if they come up against Alaska who had yet to lose in the tournament as of Wednesday afternoon. But when they hit the ice on Thursday, Flemming said the girls will be digging deep to try and win for Regan.
“We’re just working that much harder because we want to do it for her, and him (Carl), and for the family,” she said.
Regan said getting a medal at the Arctic Winter Games would be a fitting way for the team to finish off the tournament.
“It would mean a lot to win because I know he’s watching and he’d be so proud.”