If this was an audition for the 2020 Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, it would appear there are some bright lights in store when it comes time to pick the bantam boys hockey team.
A group of peewee players in the 2005 age bracket from Hay River, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Yellowknife made the trip to Burnaby, B.C., for the BC Spring Showdown tournament from April 26 to 29. They ended up winning the gold medal in the silver division thanks to a 6-2 win over the Kelowna Heat, capping off a weekend that included three wins and two losses.
Shaun Demarcke of Hay River was the team’s head coach and said he did his best to try and prepare the kids for what they would be facing.
This was a full-contact tournament, after all.
“The body checking was a learning curve for the kids,” he said. “Some of them were tentative, about three-quarters of them wouldn’t go into the corners or forecheck because they were a bit afraid of being hit.”
That showed in their first contest against the Heat in the round-robin, where they were beat, 5-3. That timidness was still around in their second game against the Snipers from Nanaimo, B.C., which also ended in defeat, this time by a score of 7-3. The NWT found themselves down 3-0 after the opening period and had no answer for the Snipers.
By game three, though, they seemed to catch on to what was happening, said Demarcke, and started to play more aggressive.
“They came around and started to play the body more,” he said.
The boys found the win column in their third game, a 6-1 win over the New Western Bruins of Langley, B.C. They led after the first period, 3-1, and never looked back after that, scoring three more unanswered markers to cement the win.
Demarcke said two of his bigger players from Inuvik, Liam Cardinal and Telly Banksland-Stefure, started playing like big players in game three.
“They started skating more confidently and made their presence known out there,” he said. “Players didn’t want to go near them because they had no idea if they were going to throw a hit or not so they weren’t taking any chances.”
They entered the silver division semifinals against the BC Hockey Selects, which ended in a 10-2 drubbing for the good guys, which was followed up by the win over Kelowna.
Going into the tournament, Demarcke said he didn’t have any expectations except showing the players the calibre of hockey on display.
“There wasn’t any expectation to win,” he said. “I just wanted them to experience that kind of hockey and also meet some of the other kids from the communities so that way they’ll feel comfortable if they ever play on the same team again. You could see the difference in their play as the tournament went on and it was nice as a coach to see that.”
The idea behind sending the team down to a tournament came from Hockey NWT as a way to create more opportunities for the second-year peewees, said Brad Anstey, Hockey NWT’s president.
“We wanted to introduce them to what the Team NWT system is all about,” he said. “We had evaluations in the regions and a certain number of players were chosen from the regions.”
The evaluations will be used to help identify players for future tournaments such as the Arctic Winter Games and Canada Winter Games, he added.
“It doesn’t mean they’ll be on those teams but we want to max out the opportunities for the kids, especially from the communities,” he said. “They get to play with different players and see a different coach and it’s so beneficial for them.”