By Sam Laskaris
ELSIPOGTOG FIRST NATION, N.B.
A men’s hockey team based out of a First Nation in New Brunswick will be among those vying for a prestigious national championship.
The Elsipogtog Hawks are one of six clubs that are participating this year for the Allan Cup, the trophy annually awarded to the Canadian men’s senior A hockey champions.
The Allan Cup has a rich history as it has been awarded every year since 1909.
The Hawks, who are only in their fourth year of existence, play the majority of their home matches out of the Chief Young Eagle Recreation Centre on the Elsipogtog First Nation. The rink has a capacity of about 300 spectators.
The Hawks are now gearing up to compete in the six-team national tournament. This event, which runs April 9 to April 14, will be staged in Rosetown, Sask.
Hawks’ general manager Luckie Milliea said his side actually qualified for this year’s Canadian championships a year ago by winning their then four-team New Brunswick-based North East Senior Hockey League.
Allan Cup officials allow the club to enter the nationals the following season in order to give sufficient time to raise funds to attend the tournament.
“We had to raise over $50,000,” Milliea said. “We managed to do that and we’re all set and ready to go now.”
The Hawks’ organization raised about $10,000 of its required funds during a golf tournament it staged this past summer.
“It was in the beginning of August, before lobster season,” Milliea said.
The fact the Hawks will be competing at the nationals is creating a bit of a buzz. And not just in the Elsipogtog First Nation.
“It’s big news for us,” Milliea said. “Chiefs from across Atlantic Canada have been calling and congratulating us.”
Milliea believes the Hawks’ organization has some additional pressure to perform well in Rosetown since it will be representing not only its own community but Indigenous hockey in general.
“ I know they will be proud of us once we get there. At least people will be talking about us for a good thing. We’re mostly known for our protests and fighting of things. Now we’re going to be recognized for our hockey and for our skills.”
The Elsipogtog 20-player roster includes nine Indigenous players, representing five different First Nations.
Defenceman Tyrone Sock, the Hawks’ captain, is one of five players from the Elsipogtog First Nation. The others are forwards Tristan Joseph and Kenny Francis and defencemen Andy Joseph and Dusty Levi.
Defenceman Justin McCarthy-Paul is from the Kingsclear First Nation while goalie Alexander Denny is from Nova Scotia’s Eskasoni First Nation.
Forwards Scott Sack and Brett Bernard are from the Indian Brook First Nation in N.S. and the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, respectively.
Besides the host Rosetown Redwings, also competing in this year’s Allan Cup are Saskatchewan’s Bethune Bulldogs, Alberta’s Lacombe Generals, Manitoba’s South East Prairie Thunder and the Stoney Creek Generals from Ontario.
Milliea is not as optimistic of the Hawks’ chances at the nationals now as he was recently.
“I think we’ll be alright,” he said. “A few weeks ago I thought we had the team that could win it. But we lost five key guys to injuries.”
Three of those players are unable to play because of back injuries. Another is out with a broken wrist and a pulled groin will prevent another from taking part.
Since the Elsipogtog squad qualified for this year’s Allan Cup in 2017, the club also had some turnover and will be without others that played key roles last season.
This list includes defencemen Chad Denny and Trey Lewis.
Denny, a 31-year-old blueliner who had been drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2005 National Hockey League’s Entry Draft, was traded to another senior men’s squad.
And Lewis, who was the captain of the Halifax Mooseheads when they captured the Memorial Cup in 2013, returned to school this season, playing at the University of New Brunswick, after toiling for the Hawks a year ago.
Besides its nine Indigenous players, the Elsipogtog squad also includes five other off-ice Indigenous individuals.
Milliea is from the Elsipogtog First Nation. The others from Elsipogtog are coach Brian Copage, trainer Richard Levi and Mark Augustine, who serves as the secretary on the Hawks’ executive.
Meanwhile, coach Jesse Pearly is from the Tobique First Nation.