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Eddie Smith, centre, of Hay River White clears the puck away from his net while being challenged by Jonathan Tsetso, right, of Fort Simpson during the Old Timers’ Hockey Tournament held in Hay River in February of 2019.
NNSL file photo

Every hockey season – except this one, of course – teams in the NWT host tournaments and travel to other communities to be hosted.

The lack of tournaments in this time of Covid-19 has left many hockey teams in Hay River hoping things will soon get back to normal.

However, that is mixed with concern that this hockey season may see no tournaments.

Pennie Pokiak, president of Hay River Minor Hockey, is hopeful.

“I have not given up,” she said. “We can go right ’til April.”

Pokiak noted Hay River Minor Hockey has been told by the GNWT that it would not consider allowing hockey tournaments until the New Year.

“So I think if we keep going along the way we’re going along and we don’t have Covid in the NWT then, I hope it’s something that they strongly consider, because we should be able to live within the reality that we’re actually living in,” she said.

Pokiak recognizes these are unprecedented times.

“So we’re just kind of going with the flow, and, to be honest with you, we’re just lucky to be on the ice. And I think that’s the general consensus,” she said.

In normal years, Hay River Minor Hockey would host six tournaments in the initiation, novice, atom, peewee, bantam and midget divisions with teams coming from out of town for every event.

“Plus, we would have been travelling to tournaments,” said Pokiak. “Our groups are all allowed to travel to four out-of-town tournaments a year.”

The loss of tournaments has an impact on minor hockey’s fundraising, even though Pokiak noted it doesn’t have the expense of sending teams to out-of-town events.

No tournaments also impacts players’ enjoyment of hockey.

“Sometimes the tournament play is what keeps kids in hockey,” Pokiak explained. “It gives them something to work towards.”

Hay River Men’s Rec Hockey would normally have held its annual tournament in November, but it was postponed.

Asked if he thinks the tournament will take place this hockey season, Terry Rowe, president of Hay River Men’s Rec Hockey, replied, “You can say hope, wishful thinking.”

Rec Hockey’s home tournament usually attracts 10-12 teams.

“It’s fun to get to see different friends and ex-teammates from different communities that we can play against and kind of battle against from year to year,” said Rowe. “That’s the fun aspect of it.”

Rowe, also general manager of The Ptarmigan Inn, noted sports tournaments are good for the economy of a community with new people coming to town.

“Now it’s pretty quiet,” he said.

Rowe is also involved in another tournament in Hay River as an executive member of Polar Pond Hockey.

“We haven’t met yet to decide if we’re going to be hosting anything,” he said of Polar Pond Hockey. “As it stands right now, we for sure won’t be able to host our gala, which is a big part of our fundraising for that event. It pays for the event. So if we can’t do that, it’s going to be a tough sell to our executive.”

In March of this year, Polar Pond Hockey began just as the Covid-19 shutdowns were starting. The tournament’s gala and beer gardens were cancelled, but games did proceed on the river ice at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Rowe said, if a decision is made to hold Polar Pond Hockey this coming March, it will likely be a fun tournament and all outside.

Hay River Old Timers’ Hockey usually holds its tournament in February.

“I’ll probably wait ’til the New Year to officially cancel in case things change, but my understanding is teams aren’t allowed to travel,” said Jeff Boyce, president of Hay River Old Timers’ Hockey.

Boyce said he is not very hopeful the tournament – which usually attracts 12 teams – will take place.

The potential loss of the tournament means Old Timers’ Hockey will not have its major fundraiser, said Boyce. “There’s a financial impact and probably a financial impact on the town because of guys coming into town and eating and drinking, and hotel stays and gas and groceries.”

However, the Old Timers’ president welcomes the fact that hockey is happening at all in this time of Covid-19.

“We’re probably pretty lucky to be playing hockey right now,” he said.

Christy Schwartz, president of Hazard Women’s Hockey, said there is still hope that their tournament might happen in February.

“That’s kind of what we always practise towards is the big tournaments,” she said. “There’s us, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Yellowknife that all have them. And it’s the highlight throughout the season. So it’s sad that we so far aren’t able to plan for those, but if things change I’m sure a couple will pop up.”

It’s nice to play out-of-town teams, said Schwartz. “It’s a different kind of level of energy and excitement and play that comes up when you do that.”

A couple of the presidents mentioned guidance from Hockey North as one reason there are no tournaments.

Kyle Kugler, executive director of Hockey North, said there was not a directive, but more like a recommendation against travel between communities for tournaments.

“We had one request for inter-community travel, like a home-and-home series between Fort Smith and Hay River,” he explained. “At the time there were active Covid cases in Fort Smith. We made the recommendation just to hold off on any community travel for games between the two associations.”

Kugler said teams are being asked to continue to hold off until the New Year in line with recommendations from the NWT’s chief public health officer, even though he noted there’s nothing in the GNWT’s public health orders preventing travel around the territory.

“We’re following their lead and just trying to limit the risk of exposure for our participants,” he said.

Kugler can’t say whether tournaments will likely resume later this hockey season.

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Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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