There will not be a Northern Hockey Challenge this winter, but members of the Hay River Huskies have not forgotten the special experience of the first one.
So 10 members of the team volunteered over the weekend to pass on some of their hockey knowledge at the NTPC Huskies Hockey Camp as a way to say thank-you to the town for its support last winter.
Stephane Millette, a member of the Huskies, said everybody loved the Northern Hockey Challenge and the players wish that it was happening this year.
“So we all figured we might as well give something back to the kids,” he said.
The Northern Hockey Challenge featured the best senior men’s hockey players in the NWT, Nunavut and northern Quebec. Hay River played in the western division against Inuvik and Yellowknife.
Millette recalled the excitement among hockey fans in Hay River, including playing in front of a packed arena.
“We’d walk around town and so many people would stop us and talk about the last game or talk about the next games coming up, and encouraging us,” he said. “Everybody was pumped about it.”
Millette said the challenge was a big deal in Hay River, and that led to the hockey camp.
“We figured that we might as well keep going with that momentum so that the kids have something to look up to and that they’re looking forward to hockey that much more,” he said.
The NTPC Huskies Hockey Camp was sponsored by the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and the GNWT Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
Approximately 100 young players participated, including more than a dozen from Fort Smith and about 10 from Fort Resolution.
“Minor hockey usually hosts a camp at the beginning of every year, but this is the first year that obviously the Northern Hockey Challenge has stepped up and said that they’d like to coach and give back to the community,” said Kim Ivanko, a camp organizer. “So they’re donating their time. There’s no fee for them. So I think it’s fantastic.”
Ivanko said many young people watched the Hay River Huskies play last winter, and they would talk about the players.
“They’re hockey icons in town,” she said.
The camp, which ran from Oct. 25 to 27, included players in initiation to midget divisions, and a practice just for female players.
Ivanko said, to the best of her recollection, it was the first time there had been a home-grown hockey camp in Hay River.
“Minor hockey has often got coaches from down south to come up,” she said.
Ivanko said this year’s camp created enthusiasm among young players, including at Ecole Boreale, where she is a teacher.
“A lot of the students and players from Ecole Boreale have been pumped for the past two weeks when they found out that it was the Huskies Northern Hockey Challenge team that were coming out,” she said. “They were just through the roof and that’s all they’ve been talking about.”
Millette added there was a lot of excitement leading up to the camp.
“I was surprised with how many parents and how many kids were thanking us ahead of time and saying they were looking forward to these local hockey players getting involved and putting in their time to show the kids a couple of things that they’ve learned in the past,” he said.
Declan Munro, one of the young players at the camp, said it was good to learn from the Huskies.
“I enjoyed that they made us try to skate on our outside edges, and that was actually pretty hard,” he said.
Another youngster, Conner McKay-Ivanko, also enjoyed the camp, saying he learned how to start skating fast.
Conner said he loves skating fast.”I like feeling the wind pushing into my face.”
Both of the children said they watched the Huskies play in the Northern Hockey Challenge last winter, adding it was “cool” to learn about the game from those players.
— Paul Bickford