During the weekend of April 11th -14th 2001, the Cree Nation Bears participated in the Chrysler Cup Provincial Championships held in Daveluyville (region of Estrie). There were 16 teams representing the different regions of the Quebec. The people of Eeyou Istchee can be proud of the way these young athletes represented the entire Cree Nation. From the moment we arrived there was a buzz in and around the arena in Daveluyville and the focus was on the Cree Nation Bears. Although Abitibi-Temiscamingue’s representatives at the Provincial Championships, they were known as the Cree Nation team. With upwards of 50 fans from the various Cree Communities in attendance for each game, the spirit of the Cree Nation shone.
The opening game had the Bears face off against Cote Nord’s representative Baie Comeau. From the opening face-off, these two teams proved their Regional success in a fast-paced action-filled match with the Bears victorious 3-0. Prior to the start of the second round match-up, two elderly gentlemen from the town of Daveluyville approached me in the Arena. They said that after our victory over /Cote Nord, one of the favorites in this year’s Chrysler Cup, the Bears from the Cree Nation were not only the topic of discussion in the arena, but throughout the entire town of Daveluyville as well. They went on to state that they and others from this town had adopted our team as their own.
The second game matched the Bears with Beauport (Quebec City). Although the Bears jumped out to a three goal lead, it must be taken into consideration that all teams are champions from their respective regions. The team from Beauport fought back to within a goal before the Bears opened up a 4-2 lead. A late third period goal was not enough as the Bears held on for a 4-3 victory to move on to the third round with Bourassa, a team from the Montreal region. The game was exciting to watch with the Bears dominating play and the two goalies coming up with spectacular saves time after time. At the end of regulation play the game was tied 2-2. After three shooters per side, the score remained tied. It was not until the eighth shooter in sudden death that the Bears were victorious.
The Quarter-final game was to be the Bears once again facing Cote Nord. This proved to be the most exciting and fast-paced game of the championships. The team from Cote Nord established a 2-0 lead in the first period. The Bears fought back to level the score at two by the end of the second period, thanks to two short-handed goals. In the third period the Bears had jumped ahead by two goals before a penalty shot was awarded to Cote Nord with approximately six minutes remaining. The ensuing goal narrowed the Bears lead to 4-3. With roughly two minutes left to play Cote Nord scored the equalizer and we were headed to overtime. The five-minute sudden death overtime saw both teams playing defensively and ended still tied 4-4. Cote Nord came away victorious and this first defeat for the Bears eliminated them from the championships.
Although not the Chrysler Cup Champions, the Cree Nation Bears are to be commended. Their last game versus Cote Nord was quoted by all in attendance as “The Final.” The following are the comments that were stated during the weekend about the Bears; “SPIRIT”, “RESPECT”, “SPORTSMANSHIP”, “SPEED”, “SKILL”, “TALENT” and “PRIDE”. A lot can be said for these boys from the Cree Nation that gave their all this season right to the end. Even in defeat, there were no signs of anger or resentment, only the feeling of knowing it was so … so very close.
The Bears players are not the only ones to be commended for their pride. Having been with this team since the very beginning back in 1996, I can say that the parents were a great reason for this year’s success. They were there at the beginning of the season, not sure what to expect. They were there during the tough times, always supporting and encouraging the team. They were there to fundraise when called upon, and to search for additional financing. They were there each and every game, sacrificing their time and money to support not only their children but the entire team as well. And at the Provincial Championships, seeing them waiting for each and every player to exit the dressing room, cheering and patting them on the back, that is the picture that all will remember for a long, long time.
The coaching staff are to be commended for their efforts this season. Head Coach Steve Cheechoo began the season with Michael Petawabano and Paul Iserhoff as his assistants. With the departure of Steve Cheechoo (returning to Moose Factory), Michael and Paul are to be congratulated for taking over and finishing the year strong. The Sponsors that were there to support the Cree Nation Bears are to be applauded for their continuous generosity throughout the season. They not only supported the team financially at the beginning of the year, but also each time that the team required assistance, be it a tournament, team event, or the Provincial Championships. Finally the FANS. To walk through the arena and witness the 50 or so fans wearing Bears Jerseys, standing, cheering, clapping, letting the Bears know that they were so very proud of them, had parents and other spectators in awe.
This was the culmination of a great successful season. As we bid farewell to this most successful campaign thus far, the Cree Nation should be proud of the way the Bears conducted themselves this season. Long after the champion Cote Nord have been forgotten, the people that were present from all regions including the tiny town of Daveluyville will continue to remember the Spirit and Pride of the Cree Nation.
See you next season,
Jeff Spencer, General Manager
Cree Nation Bears Hockey