Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
There could be a new national hockey tournament for Indigenous players starting as early as next year.
That’s because Stephane Friday and his partner Abigail Linklater, the co-founders of the popular Hockey Indigenous website, are exploring the opportunity of a national tourney for Indigenous players ages 18 to 20.
There are currently a pair of national tournaments for Indigenous players.
The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with its event in Winnipeg. This tourney traditionally features female and male players between the ages of 13 and 17.
And the Fred Sasakamoose Chief Thunderstick National Hockey Championship is annually held in Saskatoon. Though some teenagers do suit up for this event, it is primarily one for adults over the age of 20.
“We’ve had this idea for about two years now,” Friday said. “There is a small gap there for age groups between the two national tournaments. We thought we’d create an event to fill that gap.”
The proposed Canadian tournament would primarily be for those who are too old to participate in the NAHC, and perhaps a bit young still to compete in the Fred Sasakamoose event.
To get the ball rolling, Friday and Linklater, who live in Timmins, Ont., have put out a call for Indigenous members to join an advisory committee.
Committee members would help determine the format of the proposed tournament, as well as when and where to stage their inaugural event.
“This would be a U-20 event,” Friday said. “We would have 18, 19 and 20 year olds.”
Those looking to join the advisory committee must send a letter of interest and CV to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 31. Those seeking to be a part of the committee must be Indigenous.
Friday said the advisory committee will probably include between seven and nine members.
Friday, a member of Kashechewan First Nation in northern Ontario, and Linklater, who is from Taykwa Tagamou First Nation in northern Ontario, will be part of the tournament’s advisory group.
“I’m excited to get community together,” Linklater said. “Indigenous people love being together and love hockey, so adding a little friendly competition to the mix brings a lot of exciting elements to that.”
Friday said he will wait to see what type of format the advisory committee members choose to have for the tournament.
Those that take part in the NAHC represent provincial, territorial or regional squads. While the women’s division is open at the Fred Sasakamoose event, those in the men’s category are primarily representing their own First Nation or community.
Friday is hoping to start the U-20 tourney as early as next year or by 2025.
He said the event will include both female and male divisions. He’s hoping to attract eight clubs in each grouping.
But at this point he is unsure whether squads will represent their own community, province or tribal council.
“It’s starting from scratch,” he said.
The NAHC does have a rule on which players are eligible to take part. For those in the male division, they can only have competed in a few Junior A contests to remain eligible.
But Friday said the new tourney will not have any restrictions.
“For this there will be no limit,” he said, adding all Indigenous players who compete for higher-calibre squads at the Major Junior level will be able to take part should they choose.
The timing of the event though is uncertain.
“It’s kind of open, anywhere from January to May,” Friday said.
Both the NAHC and Fred Sasakamoose tournaments are traditionally in May. Friday said it might make sense to try and stage his event between these two tournaments.
But he will wait and see if the majority of advisory committee members would prefer to have the tourney earlier in the year, perhaps in January, soon after the annual World Junior Championships.
Linklater was asked what she hopes comes out of the proposed tournament.
“Respect, community and inclusion,” she said. “Starting a national initiative with those goals in mind, I can only hope that Hockey Indigenous can host a meaningful and memorable tournament. Additionally, creating and building a close-knit community stronger and closer so we all can help support each other.”
As for the possible location for the first tournament, Friday said he will wait to get some input from advisory committee members. His vote though would be to have it somewhere in Ontario.
“I thought it would be easier to have the inaugural event in our own province,” he said.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.