There’s a new kid in town! Well actually, it’s not so much a kid as it is a team, and it’s not really so much new as it is two years old. And if you were at the Waswanipi arena on Thursday, April I, you were witness to the birth of a new champion. On that night, the Cree Nation Eenouch secured a spot in the provincial Midget AA Hockey Championships for the first time ever.
The Eenouch, an all-Native team, finished second in their league during the regular season with 56 points, only six points behind the first-place Conquerors from La Sarre. This earned them a bye into the semi-finals against the Citadels from Rouyn Noranda. The series lasted seven games with the Eenouch coming out on top, heading for the area finals.
Meanwhile, the Conquerors were knocked out of the running in four straight games by fourth-place National from Val d’Or, sending Val d’Or to face the Eenouch.
The final series began with a win for the Eenouch, but the team lost game two because of their off-ice discipline, says team manager Sidney Ottereyes. The next day, seven players were out with food poisoning and they lost the third game. But they rallied back to win the next two games. They lost game six due to nerves, which set up the seventh and deciding game in Waswanipi.
The arena was packed with over 1,200 spectators. The Eenouch coaches and team spent three days planning the game, both on and off the ice. They wanted to play intense, aggressive hockey with tight checking, making sure Val d’Or’s top scorers didn’t get a chance at the net. The plan worked, as the Cree Nation Eenouch dominated with a blow-out victory of 5-0.
At a league banquet two days after the final game, two Eenouch players were honoured. Sheldon Chewanish was selected as the Best Defenseman of the league, with 40 points during the regular season and 16 in the play-offs, and Derland Georgekish was chosen as the Most Valuable Player of the play-offs, with 24 points.
The Eenouch now head to the provincial championships April 9 in Repentigny, where they will represent the area of Abitibi to play for the Dodge Cup. The games are designed to weed out the 18 teams quickly, with each playing three games until only four teams remain. If the Eenouch lose their third game, they go home. If they win, they play in one of two semi-final games.
Ottereyes is confident about playing the teams from down south in the championships, as the Eenouch have played against some in other tournaments this year. “Our chances are good,” he says. “We can play the same calibre as they play.”
He believes the Eenouch are physically and mentally stronger because of their off-ice training. “It all depends on the off-ice behaviour, how disciplined they are. If the boys are concentrating off-ice, rested and eat well,” he observes, “they usually play well.”
After the championships, the season will be done for most. But 10 Eenouch players have been selected to go to Vancouver for the National Aboriginal Hockey Tournament at the end of April, sure to be a good time.