Sir John Franklin and St. Pat’s renew the battle in Wade Hamer Challenge Cup

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It’s inevitable and also a sucker’s bet that Sir John Franklin and St. Pat’s will meet somewhere down the line in a scholastic sports event of some kind when the banner is on the line.

When has it never happened since both schools have been around?

Wednesday, though, is much different. Different in the fact that it’s only one game on one day and they’re the only two schools competing for what is arguably the biggest prize in Yellowknife sports.

Welcome to the Wade Hamer Challenge Cup.

The 33 rd edition of the battle between the Falcons and the Irish gets underway that

Brittney Bessette of St. Pat’s stands at the ready during an exhibition game between the school’s girls team and the Yk Women’s Hockey League at the Multiplex on Nov. 13. St Pat’s goes into both the boys and girls games of the 2017 Wade Hamer Challenge Cup Wednesday afternoon at the Multiplex as the defending champions.
photo courtesy of Brent Currie

afternoon at the Multiplex at 1 p.m. with the girls teams battling it out, followed by the boys game right afterward.

St. Pat’s will go into both games as the two-time defending champions and Rob Hart, who will be coaching the Irish girls this year, said they will be ready.

“We know we’ve had good results the last couple of years,” he said. “The boys toss around all the numbers but it’s so much different for the coaches because we don’t look at it as carrying a dynasty or anything like that. It’s a new job every year.”

For Sir John Franklin, it’s a new year and new hopes after a tough go-round one year ago.

Landon Kowalzik, who will be behind the bench for both of the Falcons outfits this year, said the players don’t really worry the results more than coaches do.

“As coaches, we feel the result a bit more than the players do because they’re more resilient,” he said. “We think about whether we could have done some things different in the games but by and large, it’s a new year. We’re not out to just win it, we want our players to enjoy the experience and show good sportsmanship. We want them to take lots of positives from the experience.”

Both schools have been practising since the school year began and it isn’t a huge recruitment drive to get the players to come out, at least not at Sir John Franklin.

Kowalzik said there’s a announcement made at the opening assembly of the school year and that’s the main recruiter.

“We avoid going out and asking individual players,” he said. “We always want players to come out and play but we don’t actively go asking. If the students want to do their own recruiting, that’s fine by us.”

For St. Pat’s, Hart said their job actually got underway before the school year began.

“We call up and get the ice times nailed down as soon as we can,” he said. “We have one practice a week and a lot of our boys, and some of our girls, are playing minor hockey in between that.”

Both teams also avoid trying to cut players if they can help it, which can lead to rather packed benches and can lead to some tricky decisions considering that the game is only two 20-minute periods long rather than the standard three 20-minute stanzas.

That’s going to be the case for Sir John Franklin’s girls team, which will field a crowded roster but Kowalzik said unfortunately, not everyone will be involved.

“We won’t be able to dress everyone for the game,” he said. “We do have some Grade 12 students that will get the chance to play because it is their final year but we’ll do our best to get everyone who dresses into the game.”

Same goes for St. Pat’s as they will have a sizable girls squad, said Hart.

“The Challenge Cup isn’t like Super Soccer or Spike It where a school can enter more than one team in a division,” he said. “It’s only one game and only one team and we’ve maxed out the jerseys.”

Each year brings some interesting stories, such as last year’s boys game, where Jack Panayi of Sir John Franklin managed to wear no. 99. Kowalzik was steadfast in his refusal of Panayi wearing it because of the Wayne Gretzky factor but he relented after Panayi got in touch with Gretzky himself, who gave his personal permission.

This year, Jean-Luc Amirault of St. Pat’s has a chance to do something very few players have ever done: win the Challenge Cup five times. The Irish boys have won the last four games running and Amirault has been the goaltender in all four of those victories.

“That would be quite a feat,” said Hart. “I don’t know how many times that’s been done by either school but it would be the first one I would be a part of if it happened.”

Each school takes turns organizing the game and it’s Sir John Franklin’s turn this year. That includes getting the officials, booking the ice and printing the programs, among a litany of other things.

It’s a big task, said Kowalzik, but it’s all worth it in the end.

“The community benefits from this because a lot of work goes into it,” he said. “This is my 12th one and I know as a school, we love having this.”

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