Three midget hockey players from Hay River will soon be off on what will likely be the hockey experience of a lifetime.
The trio – Lochlan Munro, Dawson McMeekin and Tyrell Wilgosh – are part of the NWT team that will be going on a 10-day, three-country tour of Europe, during which they will play six games.
“I think it will be a good experience, and lots of fun,” said the 16-year-old Munro, who like the others has never played hockey in Europe before.
The tour has been organized because midget hockey was not included in the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) due to a lack of facilities in Nuuk, Greenland.
Munro said it was kind of a disappointment when he heard the team was not going to the AWG.
“But it’s kind of a bonus that we get to go to Europe,” he said.
And when asked which he would prefer, playing in Europe or at the AWG, Munro replied, “Probably Europe. Yeah.”
As for 16-year-old McMeekin, he said he is “not at all” disappointed not to be going to the AWG now that the team is headed to Europe, and he is looking forward to playing there.
Wilgosh is also looking forward to going to Europe.
The 15-year-old said he was a little disappointed not to be going to the AWG but that was before the European trip was arranged.
As for what he is looking forward to in Europe, he said, “The different style of hockey they play.”
Les Skinner, the head coach of the NWT Midgets from Inuvik, explained the trip to Europe originated when this year’s AWG couldn’t handle all three hockey categories.
While the bantam and junior girls’ teams were accepted – and will play in Iqaluit since Nuuk has no arenas – the midgets were cut from the games about two years ago.
In fact, Skinner said a number of other sports will not be at the AWG because of facility issues – curling, speedskating, gymnastics and figure skating – and dog sledding won’t take place because of the quarantine rules for dogs entering Greenland.
Skinner said the various sports affected originally hoped to have alternate games in Whitehorse, and approached the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs for funding to attend. However, that idea fell through.
MACA did provide the midget team with $64,000 for the European tour, and the team had to raise $1,500 per player.
Skinner said the players selected for the team and all the parents agreed it was a great idea.
“A big part of this will be the cultural aspect,” he said, adding that the players will be visiting historic sites and participating in cultural activities.
“Some teams are hosting us for dinners and whatnot.”
Skinner, who is president of Hockey NWT, said when he came up with the idea of the tour he wanted it to be about more than hockey.
“It’s not all about winning and playing the games,” he said.
The trip will take the team to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, where they will play teams in their age range.
In all, 18 players, two coaches and a manager will be on the trip, which will start in Yellowknife on March 14 and end March 24.
Along with Hay River, the players come from Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk.
In addition, some parents will be travelling along at their own expense, including Dean McMeekin, who is the coach of the Hay River Midget Huskies.
“It is a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s something that the kids from the territories wouldn’t have normally got a chance to do.”
McMeekin said it will be interesting to see how the NWT players match up against European players of the same age.
Skinner also said he hopes his players will learn from playing international hockey.
“I think it will give them an idea of where they’re at in their development and what they need to work on,” he said, noting that would be helpful if any of the players go on to play university, college or junior hockey.
And for those and the majority who go on to play recreation hockey, Skinner also hopes they will be able to look back fondly at the tour in years to come as a real positive experience.