The Northern Hockey Challenge is returning for another season.
The popular event – featuring a clash of senior recreation hockey teams from Hay River and Yellowknife – is planned to begin in January.
“Things seem to be moving along,” said Greg Rowe, one of the organizers.
And on the weekend, player Andre Chabot said the dates have been confirmed in Hay River.
The challenge between the Hay River Huskies and the Yellowknife Flyers will start in Hay River with three games from Jan. 8 to 10.
Rowe said this will be the fourth season for the Northern Hockey Challenge, the third featuring just the Huskies and the Flyers.
The Northern Hockey Challenge began in the 2012-2013 season with three teams in the NWT and four in Nunavut.
“For, I guess, various reasons it wasn’t sustainable on the same scale but certainly the rivalry was rekindled between Hay River and Yellowknife, and the crowds that we’ve been able to get out to the games certainly shows the interest is there,” said Rowe. “I constantly get calls and questions if it’s going to happen again this year.”
Last season, there were games in Hay River but the planned return games in Yellowknife didn’t happen because no ice time was available.
Rowe said a return to Yellowknife is hoped to take place in March this time around.
“We’re really looking to keep that rivalry going and entertain the hockey fanatics and most importantly the kids,” he said. “The kids really come out to it and support it.”
Aside from offering entertaining hockey, the challenge is designed to encourage more youngsters to play the game.
“When we started this thing, it was really to get the interest of hockey back in the forefront,” Rowe explained. “When kids see the excitement and the calibre, and that there is some place for them to continue on with playing at a higher level, they really seem to come back to hockey. And we’re hoping that will reflect in some of the minor hockey numbers.”
Rowe noted there is a “real core of keeners” ready to play once again for Hay River in the Northern Hockey Challenge.
“There’s a huge commitment on the players to be able to travel, and lots of them have young families and are already quite involved in hockey,” he said. “So they’re quite committed to it. Without their commitment we wouldn’t be able to even try to put this thing together.”
One of those dedicated players is Chabot, who has been on Hay River’s team in the Northern Hockey Challenge since the beginning.
“I enjoy the competitive series between Yellowknife and Hay River,” he said, adding the level of hockey is good.
“I also like the community engagement,” he added. “Seeing the fans at the rink and seeing the fans enjoy the hockey games is a lot of fun, too. I’ll never forget that playoff series with Yellowknife when we beat them in overtime in game four. That was probably the most intense game I’ve ever played in my life.”
That game was in the first year of the challenge when there were many teams involved.
Chabot said, right now, the challenge is keeping alive the rivalry between Hay River and Yellowknife.
Rowe called it a friendly rivalry.
“I mean, yeah, things get heated every once in a while, but for the most part the guys are able to go out after the game and socialize and really look forward to the next meeting,” he said. “That’s the important part of the whole thing. If it was just a straight rivalry, win/lose, I don’t think it would carry on. But the hockey is good, the calibre is very good, and the sportsmanship is there.”