Cree Youth participating with Team Eastern Door and North made history May 5 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, when they defeated Team Manitoba in overtime in the final match of the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships. The win is their first championship at the six-year-old event.
This year’s team was a younger, more skilled entry relying on youth and opportunity along with character and discipline both on and off the ice. This proved effective as the team was focused from the beginning on a goal and was willing to listen and learn throughout the event. Coaches Steve Cheechoo and Gino Odjick did an incredible job.
Among the line-up were eight Midget AAA players competing for the first time, including 10 young men that are 16 and under who will be eligible to defend the crown in Garden River (Sault-Ste-Marie) next year.
There were eight Cree players on the gold-medal team: Simon Rondeau from Chisasibi; Graham Cheezo from Eastmain; Darren Shecapio, Kelvin Blackned and Kurt Hester from Waskaganish; and Jeremiah Coon-Come, Shawn Benac and Stéphane Petawabano from Mistissini. Coaching was Steve Cheechoo, who now lives in Waskaganish, and the GM for both teams Jeff Spencer from Mistissini.
Team Eastern Door and North won six games against six differentteams in their quest for gold. In the first game Sunday, April 29, Team EDN defeated Team Ontario South 9-1 in a one-sided romp. EDN fought off first game jitters and penalties and played hard throughout. Monday’s game saw Team EDN win 10-2 over British Columbia. On Tuesday Team EDN finished off the round robin first overall with a 5-0 win over Team Alberta
In the quarter finals Team Eastern Door and North started slow, giving up two goals on only one shot in the first couple minutes of the game – a feat that anyone in the hockey world would say they have never seen before. Team Northwest Territories scored on their first shot of the game, a puck tipped in by an EDN player. Then, on a delayed penalty with the goalie on the bench, defenceman Chris Wilmot passed the puck back blindly and it went into our net. EDN picked up the play from there scoring 10 unanswered goals to cruise to victory.
In the semi-finals against what was considered to be a tough opponent, Team Eastern Door and North continued its dominance with 11 skilled forwards skating and passing to perfection for another victory -8-3 over Ontario North.
This set up the gold medal game, a rematch from the tournament’s inaugural year (2002) in Akwesasne, where Team Manitoba defeated EDN 4-0. It took five years for Team EDN to get back to the final but this year’s team was up to the challenge.
The final game was televised live on APTN so family and friends back home in Quebec were able witness the storybook ending. Look for replays in the near future.
EDN started fast, scoring just 20 seconds into the game. Penalty trouble and an injury to team captain Dave Dupuis had them trailing 2-1 after the first period in which they were outshot 14-6. The team came alive in the second period, dominating play and outshooting Manitoba 10-2 while tying the game at 2. In the third period Manitoba scored a third power play goal to take a 3-2 lead. The Team Eastern Door and North goaltender stopped two breakaways in the last five minutes to set up a great finale.
With just over a minute to play Manitoba took its sixth penalty of the game against Jeremiah Coon-Come of Mistissini (a standout this year at the NAHC) due to his fancy stickhandling and skating. Moments later Manitoba found itself two men down. With the goalie pulled for a sixth attacker against the three Manitobans, Team EDN kept the puck alive at the blue line. A pass from defenceman Frederick Tremblay found winger Peter Stevens of Eskasoni, Nova Scotia, in front. He saw Kelvin Blackned on the far side of the net, spun around with a quick pass and Blackned put it in the empty net with 38 seconds to play in regulation to tie the game.
In overtime, Team Eastern Door and North dominated play and off a routine dump-in Sandy Dubeau dug the puck out of the comer to Kurt Hester in the high slot who fired a one-timer home, sending Team EDN players and fans into a frenzy. Hester had sacrificed his body blocking a shot in the second period and played with that injury for the rest of the game so it was a great finish for him – a well-deserved victory goal.
To see the way Team Eastern Door and North won as a team was incredible. Although there were players who stood out, it was clearly a team effort from top to bottom that helped EDN finally bring home the gold.
6 different goal scorers 9 different goal scorers
5 different goal scorers 8 different goal scorers
6 different goal scorers 4 different goal scorers
Game 1 9-1Game 2 10-2Game 3 5-0Game 4 10-2Game 5 8-3Game 6 4-3Not only did the team face adversity on ice but also fought and overcame it off-ice. It started out with a minor controversy over the three Atlantic-born players given the opportunity to play with Team EDN. Then Manager Jeff Spencer and Coach Gino
Odjick both lost old friends back home to tragedy in Mistissini and Maniwaki – heartfelt condolences to the Gunner and Whiteduck families coping with their loss.
As well, long-time team scout Bruce Richter’s son had a life-threatening car accident, but Richter stayed in Saskatchewan for the players. Head coach Kenneth Kane was unable to make the trip due to hospitalization of his wife and team trainer Dwaine White had to cancel due to a serious facial injury to his son in rugby. Well wishes to all these people and their families in coping with and healing their illnesses and injuries.
Thanks once again to Alwyn Morris, team staff and all the parents and supporters, including the two Prince Albert boys who cheered for Team EDN, along with the players who did it all. When people thank me, I just state matter of factly, ‘All we did was pick the team and then go along for a ride on their incredible journey to victory.”
Shawn Benac, a 15-year-old from Mistissini with two more years of eligibility stated that he would do it all again tomorrow if he could. Jeremiah Coon-Come, who has been put on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft list, said it was a great hockey experience. Steve Cheechoo, the team’s coach of six years and veteran player Darren Shecapio of Waskaganish both breathed a sigh of relief, saying “Finally!” Simon Rondeau of Chisasibi, an incredible goalie, thought the experience was “amazing.”
On the girls’side, Team Eastern Door and North lost in the bronze medal game to Team Saskatchewan. They had many injuries throughout the week to key players including both goaltenders so it was an accomplishment just to make a medal game for the sixth straight year.
They played a rollercoaster of games in the round robin, winning and losing through the first two rounds to be ranked seventh. In the quarter finals Team EDN played a remarkable game, defeating Team Manitoba (ranked second overall and a team that had beat them twice during the week in dominating fashion), by a score of 5-2 in a solid team effort.
In the semi-finals they played a rough, physical Ontario South Team (the eventual gold medal winner for the fifth time in six years) and lost both in injuries and on the scoreboard. They lost not only their starting goaltender Leona Hester but also captain Alyssa Montour from Kahnawake, a six-year veteran in her final year of eligibility. In the bronze medal game they did not have enough left in the tank against host Team Saskatchewan, which won bronze in both the male and female categories.
Cree Nation Girls included Karen Gull from Waswanipi; Chrissy Anna Bosum from Ouje-Bougoumou; Sarah Morrison from Wemindji; Leona Blackned Hester from Waskaganish; Amy Kistabish-Jerome from Washaw Sibi; along with first-year coach Joy Kitchen from Waswanipi (it is noted that Joy was a player on the gold medal-winning Team EDN in 2005 at Miramichi, New Brunswick). Coach Kitchen enjoyed her experience, parting with a promise: “I’ll be back next year.”
Thanks to all parents and supporters of youth athletes and these programs. Without you we would not have the success that we have enjoyed both on and off the ice. Congratulations to the players participating at this prestigious event as it is truly an honour and to win gold. The boys should be recognized for their achievement given the high calibre of hockey. This has turned into truly the most elite showcase of Bantam-Midget-aged Aboriginal hockey players in this country and any participant can be proud of their accomplishment. It was stated that the finals would be like the Telus Cup Midget AAA Championship or a Major Junior game and fans were not disappointed.
I had my 18-month-old Landen with me as Team Mascot. Due to Goose Break, it was either stay home with him and disappoint 40 youth or bring him with me -1 know I made the right choice. I love all these young people like my own children and respect them for their accomplishments. Landen was at every male and female game, all the coaches meetings and graciously accepted his own gold medal from National Chief Phil Fontaine when he was announced as part of the line-up at the end of the players’ list. Thank you to all for treating him so well.
Should you or your child be interested in participating in future National Aboriginal Hockey Championships or require more information on the programs and opportunities including the North American Indigenous Games, please contact Jeff Spencer at 418-923-3560 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.