Future of Team North at National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in doubt

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The 2020 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) will happen next May in Regina, of that there is no doubt.

What is in doubt is whether Team North will be a part of it.

The Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT has confirmed it will not be part of any future Team North ventures after it announced on July 3 that it would no longer fund the tri-territorial initiative between the NWT, Nunavut and Yukon.

Team North boys goaltender Liam Tereposky gets the poke-check ready during action at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Whitehorse this past May. The future of Team North is up in the air after the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT announced earlier this month that it would no longer foot the bill for the program. Laisa Kilabuk/Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT photo
Team North boys goaltender Liam Tereposky gets the poke-check ready during action at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Whitehorse this past May. The future of Team North is up in the air after the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT announced earlier this month that it would no longer foot the bill for the program.
Laisa Kilabuk/Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT photo

Aaron Wells, the Sports Circle’s executive director, said the stakeholders – parents, territorial sport organizations and the national Aboriginal Sports Circle council – were informed first about the decision.

He said the Sports Circle here decided to go in a different direction based on the group’s new strategic plan, which was crafted last November.

“We’re a non-profit organization and we wanted to develop a new plan going forward,” he said. “We did interviews with our membership to see what was going right or wrong and the decision was made to be more community-focused.”

The mandate of the Sports Circle, he added, is to help develop Indigenous athletes in sport and culture and not just focus on one particular sport.

“We want more youth participating from the grassroots right on up to the elite level,” he said. “Working on the NAHC took up so much time and so many of our resources – it ended up being almost a year-long thing. We felt that the best thing to do was to spread out what we have because we can make a better impact in the communities that way.”

Before Team North was established, all three territories entered their own teams with not much success. It was decided in 2015 that the territories would pool their resources together and with the blessing of the national council, Team North was born.

But the Sports Circle was on the hook for footing the entire bill, said Wells.

According to the Sports Circle’s 2018-2019 annual report, sending Team North to the 2018 NAHC in Nova Scotia cost $194,960. That number includes travel, food, freight, accommodations and other miscellaneous costs.

“It was just too much for us to handle anymore on our own,” said Wells. “We had zero help from Nunavut or Yukon for any of that, it was all on us. We can do better with that money and we can have a greater impact on the ground in the communities.”

He also said there was talk of having a partnership with a territorial sport organization to help run it but it would be tough to establish.

“We did get some help from Hockey North over the years and, to be honest, they were the one group which helped out the most,” he said. “They maxed out what they could provide and we’re grateful for the help they gave us but they’re limited as to what they can do.”

That help from Hockey North came in the form of covering some of the costs on the ground prior to the start of each tournament, said Kyle Kugler, Hockey North’s executive director.

“We helped with registering the team and paying those fees,” he said. “We also covered the cost for the camps they had in Membertou (N.S.), last year, their ice times for practices and all of the pre-camp work.”

As to whether Hockey North will be able to do more or become more involved with the program moving ahead, Kugler said it’s too soon to say but he hopes Team North will continue.

“They’ve (Sports Circle) built up a great program and they’ve had success with it,” he said. “It’s a great championship, it’s building every year and it’s great for the kids.”

Wells is hopeful as well.

“The main reaction I had from parents was one of sadness but also plenty of thanks for giving the kids the chance to do this,” he said. “Some of them have asked how they can keep this going and who to talk to. If it means Team North misses a year to re-structure everything, then maybe that has to happen but we are more than happy to help with transitioning the program to any group that wants to take over.”