After watching their male counterparts enjoy their share of success in recent years, Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal female hockey squad finally had a golden moment of its own.
The Saskatchewan team defeated a Quebec-based club called Eastern Door and the North (EDN) 7-3 in the girls’ championship match at this year’s National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC).
This marked the first time the Saskatchewan girls’ squad had captured the gold medal at the NAHC, which has been held annually since 2001.
This year’s Canadian tournament, which was staged in Saskatoon, concluded Saturday, April 30. The event featured seven boys’ teams and six girls’ clubs.
Left winger Damien Kulynych was the OT hero. He scored in the seventh minute of the extra session to give his squad yet another championship.
A Saskatchewan girls’ team had never previously advanced to the championship match at the NAHC. The club had won the bronze medal, however, on several occasions, most recently in 2009.
“It was awesome for them to win it,” said Courage Bear, who served as the manager for both the Saskatchewan girls’ and boys’ entries this year. “They worked so hard for it.”
The NAHC featured bantam- and midget-aged players. Those in the midget ranks can be as old as 17.
But the girls’ division at the nationals has always allowed teams to carry a maximum of five overagers, who can be as old as 19.
The Saskatchewan side had four overagers on its roster this year.
Of the 23 players on its team this year, Bear said there were about 15 who had previously represented the province at the national tournament.
“Some girls had played for us for four or five years,” he said. “It was nice for them to win.”
As for the 24 players on the Saskatchewan boys’ squad, 10 of them had previously represented the province at this tournament.
But it wasn’t just one or two players who stood out for the team.
“We had contributions from everybody,” Bear said. “We had four lines and everybody contributed.”
Bear realizes the Saskatchewan boys’ squad was rather fortunate to defend its title once again.
“Eastern Door had a heckuva hockey team,” he said. “Fortunately we came out on top. It could have gone either way.”
Bear believes there’s a rather simple reason why Saskatchewan clubs have enjoyed their share of success in recent years at the NAHC.
“We spend a lot of time preparing them,” he said of the club personnel, who stage various identification camps and exhibition games for the two teams.
This year both of the Saskatchewan clubs played three exhibition contests prior to the national tournament.
“That really helps in our preparations,” Bear said, adding it certainly is advantageous playing some matches before the NAHC begins.
This year’s national tournament had been plagued with plenty of uncertainties. At one point it appeared the event would not even be staged as a host had not been found, even after dates for bid submissions to stage the event had been extended.
But then this past January the Saskatoon Tribal Council, which originally was keen to stage the 2012 tournament, agreed to also run this year’s event. Shortly after that it appeared that only four provinces would be sending clubs to this year’s event, in large part because of the lateness in announcing a host.
But then when the original tournament schedule was drawn up, it included eight boys’ entrants and seven girls’ clubs. In the weeks leading up to the event, two teams withdrew, the Yukon boys’ side and the Ontario girls’ club.
Besides Saskatchewan and EDN, others that participated in the both the boys’ category were British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and the Northwest Territories.
And joining Saskatchewan and EDN in the girls’ division were British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Northwest Territories.