The annual Gwich’in Cup Tournament continues to be a huge sporting event for minor league hockey players in the Beaufort Delta region, as a record breaking 225 youth participated in this year’s tournament, improving on last year’s 211.
“I think it’s working, that kids are enjoying it. I think there’s an element of inclusivity that we promote,” said Carolyn Hunter, president of the Inuvik Minor Hockey Association.
This was the tournament’s 18th year, taking place in Inuvik’s Midnight Sun Complex from Feb. 7 to Feb. 10.
The group of youth, all ranging from the ages of five to 18, were placed into 16 teams divided into five divisions: initiation, novice, atom, peewee, bantam and midget.
“We have strict rules in place for our coaches for equal play for all players regardless of their skill level. Anybody who isn’t comfortable playing in their division for whatever reason or whatever challenge they have, we accommodate that as well,” Hunter said. “We’re very accommodating to include everybody and I think it’s working.”
Players represented Paulatuk, Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik. There were also two players who from outside of the NWT – one from Dawson City and the other from Edmonton.
Of the 225 youth who came out to play, 44 of them were girls, which was also a new high for the tournament.
“Last year we hosted a girls’ world hockey day, which was a huge success. I really think it’s catching on with more girls we get,” she said. “I think it’s increasing if you look at the divisions. Especially in the younger ones, there’s more girls. I think it will grow.”
A total of 35 games were played across the four-day tournament, with trophies and medals handed out to the teams who finished at the top of their division.
The Northern Lights defeated the Ice Stars to take first place in the novice division, while the Wolverine Warriors were victorious over the Lynx Lightning in the atom division. The Arctic Eagles finished first in the peewee division after defeating the Delta Raptors, and the Permafrost Warriors earned gold in the bantam division after beating out the Ice Bandits. Finally, it was the Delta Heat who overcame the Arctic Storm to take home first place in the midget division.
While only five of the 16 teams were awarded trophies for winning their respective divisions in the end, 35 individual awards were handed out to players across all divisions. Individual awards included MVP, most sportsmanlike, most improved, top defence, top goalie and top forward.
“I think the North is a small place and that we need to support each other. I like to see that cooperation, amongst not only the youth but the families and coaches,” Hunter said.
Coaches, players and their chaperones were given a pizza dinner on Friday, followed by a spaghetti and Caesar salad dinner on Saturday. On the final day, a pancake breakfast with eggs, bacon and sausages was served.
“We’ve received excellent support from the Gwich’in. They’re providing meals and so on,” Hunter said. “They’re recognizing people are spending a lot of money to travel here, and it’s really welcoming to provide meals. We try to make it fun off the ice as well.”
In terms of what her favourite part about the tournament is, Hunter said that it’s seeing all the youth develop friendships across the Delta.
“They all get to know each other, they’re super excited about who’s going to be on their team next year,” she said. “We’re quite happy with it. We think that it has developed into a much friendlier tournament.”