There’s the Cager basketball tournaments. There’s Super Soccer. There’s Spike It!
But in reality, there is only one game in Yellowknife that means more to both St. Pat’s and Sir John Franklin than all of those tournaments combined.
Welcome to the Wade Hamer Challenge Cup.
The puck will drop on the 34 th edition of Yellowknife’s high school hockey battle this afternoon at the Multiplex with the girls game kicking things off at approximately 1 p.m. with the boys game following immediately thereafter.
St. Pat’s is taking its turn to organize the game this – organization flip-flops between both schools each year – and Rob Hart, who’s looking after things on the St. Pat’s end, said it doesn’t take a whole lot of work to get things ready.
“Both schools talk about things such as what worked and see what can be tweaked, if anything,” he said. “We’re responsible for getting people to run the scoreboard, get the music, confirm the officials and it’s all done in consultation with the folks at Sir John Franklin.”
The spoils were shared last year as Sir John Franklin won the boys game while St. Pat’s continued its stranglehold on the girls contest as they won their third in a row and the excitement is building for this year, according to Peter Curran of Sir John Franklin, who will be the head coach of the Falcons boys.
“People have been asking about it when they see me,” he said. “It seems to generate its own excitement and it always brings out a great crowd.”
The Falcons boys ended a four-game losing streak last year; Curran lamented the fact one year ago that had his boys lost, it would have been the first time a school had suffered a five-game losing streak.
A streak he didn’t want to have.
“The wins seem to come in waves,” he said. “Teams get streaky, like on the girls side where St. Pat’s has a streak of their own going. Our boys, though, had a great effort last year and we’re geared up to defend our title this year. It’s a real committed group of young men and they’re quick. It’s a good mix of veterans and younger players with real good leadership.”
The St. Pat’s boys also have a good mix of young players on their boys roster with most of their players being midget-aged, said Hart.
“I’d say we’re pretty even in goaltending and defence,” he said. “We have Paul St. Cyr and Isaac Karstad as our netminders and I’m guessing Devin Vogel will be their goaltender. It makes it exciting but I think we have a good chance to bring the Cup home.”
Practice times are always tough to get because ice times are always at a premium, a task made even tougher for part-time programs like the ones at the high schools.
The Falcons girls have been on the ice every Saturday morning practising while the boys have managed to nail down an evening time slot on Thursdays.
Curran, who’s been helping Landon Kowalzik, the girls head coach, this season, said the level of commitment from the girls trying out for the school’s team was rather impressive.
“A total of 43 girls started out this year and even before we posted the roster, there was still 38 girls,” he said.
To get the girls ready, Curran said Kowalzik was able to schedule a series of game against the Yk Women’s Hockey League.
“They’re always looking to play games because they have a lot of players so we managed to get four games with their players,” he said.
St. Pat’s will be going with a roster of 18 players – 12 of them rookies – and Hart said it’s a mix of veterans and new faces.
“The last few years, we benefited from having a lot of the Canada Games and Arctic Winter Games players and that’s how we’ve been winning,” he said. “Sir John has had some good girls players over the years – Kandis Villebrun, Sahara Lafferty, Ayesha Barlas to name a few – but we’ve been able to draw those top players the last little bit.”
For the Grade 12 players, this will be their final chance to play in the game while the Grade 9 players will be getting their first taste of just how big a deal the game really is.
Curran said it’s a much different mindset about the game depending on who you ask.
“The seniors put a lot of pressure on themselves because it’s their last time and they want to go out a winner,” he said. “The Grade 9 players have a different pressure because they’re new to all of this: the crowd, the size of the game, all that stuff. All they have to remember is that the rules are the same, the puck is the same, the scoring is the same. They just need to block out the 1,100 or so fans in the stands.”
If you think the championship doesn’t mean a lot to the players, consider this line from Hart when talking about his son, Matthew.
“His Grade 10 year, they won everything there was to win: Cager, Spike It, Super Soccer,” he said. “I told him he had a great sports year but he told me he would trade it all in for the Challenge Cup because they lost the boys game that year. It’s a trophy the kids identify with and it means a lot to those who play in the game. It’s such a special day and you’re happy to see them get that experience.