Last weekend kicked off the speedskating season in Hay River, drawing 24 young people out to the newly laid ice surface for a two-day workshop with David Gilday.
“We always try to make it a South Slave invitational event,” said coach Harry Scheper. “We got four from Simpson this year, and I heard through the grapevine that Liard was starting up a club but they didn’t make it out.”
David Gilday, father of Yellowknife’s Olympian Michael Gilday, was on hand to run the youth through drills and games to kick off the season. With advanced and beginner groups rotating between on-ice and dry-land activities, the workshop was meant to introduce newcomers to the sport and hone technique for those who have been speedskating for years.
“It’s great to have someone fresh come in and teach the kids,” said Scheper, although Gilday has been a regular at the workshop for the last eight years since its inception and is far from an unfamiliar face. “Sometimes they can get more out of it.”
Scheper said the club typically tries to get to two or three meets per year, with two held in Yellowknife. Hay River is not equipped to host a meet of its own, primarily because there are not enough mats to go all the way around the ice surface.
“They’re expensive and storage is always a problem,” he said. “But getting out to meets is great for the kids. They get to measure up against other skaters and really see where they’re at.”
Scheper said the club is a good size, with about 25 coming out regularly last year.
“Like any sport, you lose a few and you pick up a few,” he said. “But things are getting a little more exciting right now. In the advanced group, they’re all at a stage where they’re thinking about the Arctic Winter Games.”
The 2016 games in Greenland won’t be hosting speedskating at all, but Scheper said he hopes Whitehorse will put on an event to make up for the gap. With the possibility of Hay River and Fort Smith hosting the games in 2018, he also noted that some of the skaters may very well have a chance to represent their town and territory right here at home.
“We’ve got a few up-and-comers who are going to do great in 2018,” he said. “And they might even be able to compete here.”
Still more than three years away, the Arctic Winter Games aren’t an immediate goal for speedskaters. For some, the idea is to just learn as much as they can over the course of this season and go to meets.
“I like how everyone gets along at the tournaments,” said Jack Coombs, adding that his aim for the next few months is to improve his technique with a singular goal in mind.
“Faster,” he said. “Getting faster, faster, faster.”