Young Cree hockey players may soon no longer have to go south and join non-Cree teams to play Midget AA hockey. Plans are underway for the first Cree Midget AA hockey franchise to be affiliated with the Abitibi Minor Hockey Association.

Organizers of the bid made their pitch to the president of the Midget AA league on March 9, and a final decision from the league is expected April 24. If Crees get the okay, a Cree squad could join the seven-team Abitibi league by next September.

Waswanipi resident Sam Gull, the bid’s main organizer, is now looking for financial support from the Cree communities. The franchise will need about $75,000 a year, with a slightly higher cost the first year due to start-up expenses.

Gull was enthusiastic about the benefits of the investment. The Abitibi league is highly competitive and well-regarded in minor hockey circles, and was the starting point for NHL stars like Eric Desjardins and André Racicot.

“The whole idea is to give youth a goal. For a lot of youth, when they go to play down south, it’s a culture shock. It’s hard for them to adjust,” he said. This has deprived many young Crees of a chance to go on to pro hockey, Gull added, despite abundant hockey talent in the Cree communities.

Currently, half a dozen Crees from the inland communities play for the Chibougamau Midget AA team, and are considered to be the team’s stronger players. Gull said additional talent for the Cree team is available in the coastal communities, Moose Factory and even in nearby Attikamek and Algonquin communities.

Gull first proposed the idea two years ago but was still in school at the time and couldn’t devote himself to it. “Now that I’m in the community, I decided to take on the project, especially with the talent we have to produce very high-calibre players who could even go professional.”

A Cree Midget AA team could also encourage Cree youth to stay in school and allow parents to get involved, Gull said.

Some league games would be played in the Cree communities, bringing money back to Crees.

Gull hopes the Cree franchise bid will get a push from the March 10-13 Quebec Aboriginal Minor Hockey and Broomball Tournament in Val d’Or, a major showcase for First Nations hockey talent with 80 teams playing from across Quebec.

A report on the tournament will appear in our next issue.