A Hay River weekend of fun, food and some extra-challenging sport was on the menu for hockey players in the mid-season Minor Hockey Association Christmas Jamboree from Saturday, December 19 to Sunday, December 20.
From initiation to midget divisions, the players worked hard in a mix of scrimmages and games within divisions and also across divisions. There was also a get-together in Doug Wieterman Hall above the rink for each division throughout the Jamboree with pizza parties, hot dogs, oranges, hot chocolate and desserts for the players and their families.
“Before everyone goes away on Christmas holidays, they can just get together and have fun. They try to catch everyone before they go away,” said Al Buth, a hockey dad at the jamboree.
“It basically started as an opportunity for kids to do something that’s different than all the practices,” said Sabrina Broadhead, past president of Hay River Minor Hockey, “and also a way to celebrate Christmas.”
“This way they can all get together and see their buddies before (some of them) go away,” she said. “We’re in our fourth or fifth year now. It’s actually pretty popular; the kids really enjoy it.”
The midget division also practiced for the Arctic Winter Games territorial trials. In the South Slave region, including Fort Smith and Hay River, there are few enough players that a regional trial is unnecessary, since only seventeen players would be chosen from them to continue on to the territorial trials.
“We don’t have to have (regional) trials, all the kids have direct entry into the territorials,” pointed out Broadhead.
In place of the regionals, the midgets played games and performed drills at the jamboree that would resemble those they would have experienced, and which they will need to be prepared for in the territorial trials. People who have been involved with hockey camps before offer their time to work with the players.
In inter-divisional games, players had to raise the bar as they competed at a higher level of play with older players.
“It was really competitive, because we had hard opponents,” said atom-division player Johnathan “J.J.” Frise, who played against a pee wee group on Saturday. “It was really long and tiring.”
About playing the inter-divisional game, Nick Buth from pee wees commented “It’s actually kind of weird because we got beaten by them (the atoms). In the shootout, we won.”
They had scrimmages and shootouts with the older players.
“It was fun. I scored one goal in the shootout,” said Brad Belanger.
“And in the shootout I scored two goals,” said Frise, who is on the same team as Belanger, but a year higher.
To pick up the pace, they also opened up the ice in four-on-four play against each other.
“It’s a challenge. It’s about learning to play the game at a faster pace,” said Broadhead.
The pee wees were challenged in a game against bantams as well.
“They were a lot harder and they kept getting a lot of breakaways,” said pee wee goalie Tristan Cross.
“It was kind of hard. It is more faster,” said Jordan Schumann.
The organizers attempted to balance the skill levels of the players whenever numbers permitted, to step up difficulty by age difference but without having one team thoroughly vanquish the other.
Overall the event brings families together and is a fun and very challenging way to play hockey.
“We had fun, but I was the one who mostly got the puck. They were pretty fast,” said Frise, “It was kind of hard, and fun.”
I’ve been playing hockey for five years now and my older brother has been playing for four,” he said, then admitting “he’s a bit better than me.”
It is also an effective way to bring a team closer as they face the challenges of the jamboree.
“It’s awesome,” said Buth, “Good team building.”
The Arctic Winter Games’ territorial trials for midgets will be held in Yellowknife in January, while the bantam division territorials will be held in Hay River.