December 4-7, 2003 marked another weekend in Val d’Or where the Cree Nation gathers each year for the Annual Hockey and Broomball Invitational now known as the C.R.E.E. Tournament. All nine Eeyou Istchee Cree communities along with the west side of James Bay, and other Nations come together in sport and spirit. And spirit would mark this weekend. In the end, two Mistissini teams, the Class A Trappers and Class B Falcons, left victorious.
This has special meaning as these were the teams that the late young talent Mark Petawabano had graced with his skills and strength. On each lineup were family and friends that had made the journey to Val d’Or with pride and heartache, wanting to win it for Mark and at the same time missing his presence both on and off the ice.
Yet in talking with his brother and cousins, you begin to feel their sense of elation; that they had not played alone at all that weekend and that there was a feeling however great of Mark’s presence. It gives one chills as this is described. Paul Iserhoff, who had coached Mark and played with him and the rest of that great hockey family, was behind the bench and said he did not know how many times he, out of habit, quickly said in the overtime. “Lets go Mark, you’re next.”
And to see Michael Petawabano, Mark’s brother, and Michael’s two sons Joel and Ryan, skate to pick up the award for Class B Champions wearing their beloved Falcons sweaters is a memory that all in attendance bearing witness will never forget.
Former Youth Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff, who was in attendance for the finals, said that the Class B was the most emotional victory he had ever seen, noting though that many had the sense of something missing all weekend -yet also felt Mark’s presence. For the second time in less than a month the two Mistissini teams came home victorious.
We know that this is the beginning of a long journey of healing for the Petawabano family, the community of Mistissini and in fact the entire Cree Nation, the hockey world and all the people that were touched by this young life, so the crowning of Class A and Class B Champions will be cherished in his memory.
Below is a tribute by Donald Nicholls, after talking with family that participated in Val d’Or and the C.R.E.E. Tournament this past week.
A Tribute To Hockey and One of Its Best
Hockey is all about heart. It builds on talent, makes legends and heart is most certainly an essential ingredient for great hockey. And this is what the fans were treated to this year in Val d’Or at the Cree National Invitational Hockey Tournament this past weekend. Assembled this year for the tournament were the best of the Cree communities and then some. They included a dream team coming out of Maniwaki, the Algonquin Blades, lead by former professional players like John Chabot of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Chris Brant, who holds an American Hockey League Championship ring and just returned from playing professional hockey in Europe. It was the organizers’ hopes to bring in high calibre entertainment this year by expanding the rules to allow more outside players.
There were some scouts in the crowd watching on. Hockey in the Cree Nation has evolved over the past while to an exceptional level. The calibre of players both men and women are increasingly attracting more attention of Canadian hockey programs and leagues.
So, back to Val d’Or, the best and most talented were there, well, with the exception of one. An important hockey player who unfortunately left us too soon (this summer) and who likely would have been playing in a Major hock-ey program this year, was absent. Or was he? Mark Petawabano inspired and touched many Cree and non-native fans throughout his life and a good number of the hockey players in Val d’Or this year wore his jersey number 9 on their hockey helmets for this tournament.
The two Mistissini teams that he most often played on wanted to win this tournament for their missed teammate who was always a pleasure to be with on or off the ice. On both the Men’s Class A and Class B teams, were his brothers, nephews, cousins and friends. They went to Val d’Or with a mission – to win this one for Mark. They wanted to bring Mark to Val d’Or for a tournament he should have been at. In truth, he was there; he added the winning ingredient – heart. The scouts, the fans, the visitors to this tournament, all agreed the Cree Nation has a wealth of hockey talent but what impressed them the most was the character and heart that the teams played with. The Class B finals was a tough battle that went into double overtime. The Mistissini Falcons had Mark’s brother and nephews on the team, his father was on the sidelines and before the game his cousin, Philip, spoke words of inspiration and remembrance. The reward, a victory for them with many more tears than cheers – it was the only real way to show someone that meant so much to us all, just how much we missed and appreciated him.
In the Men’s Class A finals, on the Mistissini Trappers, his brother, brother-in-law, cousins and close friends played hard against the Maniwaki dream team. Before the game, his father, brother, nephews and cousin, Philip, went into the locker room with tears and words of encouragement for the other team Mark most often played on. Emotions were high, there was no thought they would not win this one, the players all stopped to hug Mark’s dad on the way out of the dressing room. The pace was fast, hockey was at its best, the Mistissini goalie with a serious eye infection had a shutout. The final score was 2-0. Again, it was a game about heart, with talent, sweat and tears in the mix but most certainly it was a team inspired. This is perhaps something organizers, fans or other players were not privileged to, these two teams came to give a tribute to a great player and friend, and they would not disappoint. Therefore, those players, brothers, nephews, brother-in-law, cousins and friends dedicate the games and spirit of their play to Mark Petawabano, who was with them throughout this tournament in so many ways.
The final verdict of the scouts and professional hockey players in attendance, is something most of us have always talked about, the Cree Nation has enough talent to form semi-professional hockey team. For years, we have been talking about the need to take this exceptional group of hockey players to Europe to not only showcase the talent to open up opportunities but be ambassadors of our Nation. It would be a dream for most, a reward for those who are dedicated and an opportunity for some, especially if a younger team went on tour as well.
by Donald Nicholls
C.R.E.E. Tournament 2003 Edition
What a weekend! There were overtimes, a double overtime, and even a shootout, and there was…
well, only those that were there can describe the rest. In all the 2003 Edition of the newly named Cree Regional Events and Entertainment (C.R.E.E.) Senior Hockey and Broomball Tournament was once again a fun-filled action-packed event giving the people what they had come to see – great sporting action in a cultural setting.
In observing the number of participants and spectators that attended this years’ event, Jean Baptiste Loon, Chairman for the Regional Association Eeyou Istchee, described the weekend as a total success in all areas. The finals of all categories proved to be awe inspiring from the close games in mens’ categories and broomball where fans were up and down standing, sitting, standing wondering what would happen next, to the Women’s Hockey Final where the Wiki team proved they were here to play hard and take the
Championship home to Ontario for the first time.
One thing that must be duly noted is that the Mistissini Trappers won an unprecedented fourth straight Class “A” Championship at the Cree Nation Tournament. After winning back-to-back Championships in 1993 and 1994, the Trappers regrouped in the first year of the new millennium, “2000” for their third CNIT title. Since then there has been little doubt about the intensity of this team even when facing adversity. Playing the Algonquin Blades in the finals, many considered there would be a new champion, considering the prominent participants including John Chabot and Christ Brant. Yet that and the fact that Trappers goaltender Luke Mianscum could hardly see due to a serious eye infection (his heart carried him) were not enough to dethrone the defending Champions.