A group of Prince Rupert novice hockey players represented the community well recently at the Prince George Aboriginal Youth Hockey Championships, returning home with the gold medal.
Maria Niesh was one of the organizers for the northern team, which also included two Prince George players and one Burns Lake player. She decided to put together a team after her daughter played for the Moricetown Jr. Bears in the tournament last year. Things came together, even having a team logo (a sasquatch) designed by a Prince Rupert First Nations artist.
“It was awesome. The most memorable part for me was when the buzzer went at the end of the third period. The look of excitement on the kids’ faces when they skated towards to goalie to celebrate their win brought tears to my eyes,” Niesh said.
It was a dominant tournament for the North Coast Nations, which outscored its opponents 70-7 over the weekend. The team — made up of three girls and nine boys — couldn’t let up with the goal scoring because the tournament based advancing on a point system if you were tied with another team.
“I think every player had their shining moment. It was a team effort with a solid defence shutting other teams down, a goaltender who had few goals against and a solid offence that contributed to lots of goal scoring and great passing,” Niesh said, summarizing the strengths of the team.
The North Coast Nations included players from Nisga’a, Ts’msyen, Haida, Tahitian, Carrier and Metis Nations. It was one of the eight teams in the division.
To start the tournament, the Nations beat Big Guy Jr. Lake Chiefs, a team made up of Burns Lake and Prince George players, 17-0. Daniel Cake was named MVP of that game, which was one of two played at the CN Centre.
Next up was Moberly Lake Northmen (Chetwynd), which the North Coast Nations beat 12-1. Bryce Heggie was MVP of that game. In the third game, the team beat Burns Lake Storm by a whopping score of 27-0 and Joseph Helin-Alexcee was named MVP.
In the championship game, the Nations battled the Enoch Lil Chiefs, an Alberta team, to a 14-5 victory.
“This game was pretty intense in the beginning. We started with Enoch scoring 10 seconds into the first period. They came on strong but our team quickly picked up their game,” Niesh said.
Goalie Wade Burton had a strong game and tournament, posting two shutouts over the weekend.
It was the perfect result for a team competing in the championship for the first time, although it was helped by many Prince Rupert players playing together in minor hockey.
Niesh said they plan to play again, but the team will be moving up to the Atoms division with mostly first years and few second-years.
The whole group, all 46 of them, also got the treat of watching the Prince George Cougars take on Portland in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
“The Cougars ended up losing but it was still a great experience for all those kids to come out and see that hockey game,” Niesh said.