With warmer days on the horizon, Inuvik youth took the ice one last time to play some pickup hockey down by the outdoor rink on Shell Lake on April 23.
Around 20 kids between the ages of nine and 11-years-old came out for the skate. Many of the players were members of an Inuvik hockey team that came in second place at a hockey tournament in Yellowknife in February.
The outdoor event was organized by Curtis Gruben, the team’s head coach, and his wife Erica Joan, who live in the nearby neighbourhood that overlooks the lake.
At the beginning of the year, assistant coach Chris Gruben decided with his cousin Curtis that they would try to give the players as much ice time as they can possibly get.
“For our population up North, I believe that we have some of the most talented hockey players anywhere. The only way you can improve your skills is to be on the ice and skating,” said Chris.
The outdoor rink event, Chris continued, was held to celebrate the players’ hard-work and success.
“You can’t even put into words how special they are. They’re from one of the farthest Northern communities in Canada, and they just love to play hockey,” he said. “I don’t think you can say how special they are. It just goes to show that they are unbelievably special.”
The team began practicing weekly last November up until the tournament. Chris said players would be on the ice twice a week for two hours each, on top of the five other minor league weekly practices that many of the players were involved with.
“When we were doing these practices, I was realizing that these kids are really good. They can take on anybody. All the hard work that the kids were putting in is a success,” he said. “But after that tournament in Yellowknife, when we went to the finals and took on the top team in the NWT, gave them a run and almost beat them, of course it’s a success.”
By having the players on the ice and playing together at rinks such as the one at Shell Lake, Chris said that only enhances their game and their camaraderie.
“They’ve been improving everyday. Some of the kids’ confidence have skyrocketed. The ones who were quiet before are really talking now,” he said. “That’s what you want to see, especially myself as a parent. Seeing the kids gain confidence more and more every day just goes to show what the game of hockey means to them.”
Although his seven-year-old son William was unable to participate in the tournament due to his young age, Chris said that the older kids still invite him to come and join them whenever they play.
“The kids have been so accepting of him. It’s unbelievable how great teammates they are,” he said. “It makes me feel proud as a coach and as a parent. Just to see how the kids interact with each other. You couldn’t be any more proud of these kids.”
He added that he believes all the kids are destined for greatness.
“The future is limitless for these kids. Like any kid, if you just give them the tools they need to succeed, who knows how far they can get,” he said. “Who knows, maybe some of these kids will be in the NHL some day.”