The Hope Through Hockey team returned home safely, after a wonderful week, with the 750 people of North Caribou Lake First Nation, at Weagamow Lake. The formal way to refer to Weagamow or “Round Lake” in the Oji-Cree language.
110 young people took part in this year’s hockey program, with the week ending on a high note as 60 participated in the 4-team final tournament, complete with an opportunity to showcase their newly acquired hockey skills to the whole community. A new division of Little Tigers, ages 4-6, also took part in pre-tournament action. The community sponsored a post tournament dinner for the children and the leaders, using the opportunity to present 5 year old Leon with a plaque, for bravery for saving his 4 year old friend Benny, who fell in the lake last summer!
The hockey skills have improved greatly over the 4 years, but more importantly, a hopeful spirit in the community has returned. As well, the depth of friendship with the children, their families and the community has reached a new level.
The 12 person team, the largest taken to date, accomplished many of their objectives, and was made up of 6 returning members plus 6 new ones: Merrick Adams, Justin Curtis, Paul Kerrigan, Sam Luinstra, Stephanie Luinstra, Lue Mahaffey, Nicole McFadden, Kirk Meek, Wendy Meek, Katerina Noble, Tavis Smith and Don Simmonds.
The hockey development program was led by former Tigers Captain Tavis Smith, returning for his 4th year. 20 hockey bags full of equipment along with 105 sticks were taken on board a World War II vintage aircraft, that flew the team in to the remote landing strip. The families have learned to bring non-fitting equipment to be exchanged at the start of the week of hockey clinics. In addition to the annual process of refitting the kids, the team made plans for a weekly league, that would advance hockey in the community to a whole new level. A league coordinator was appointed, with plans and team gear provided for 4 teams.
There is a high percentage of young girls very interested in hockey, and team members Stephanie, Katerina and Lue led the spirited girls team clinic, while training a girls team coach, to lead forward after we left. Merrick Adams came as a goalie coach, and worked with Justin, Paul and Kirk to lead the “learn to play” and “advanced skills” clinics.
Lue, having been to the community 6 times now, as she accompanies the group of women that go in May as well, led the community interaction taking place day by day at the arena, with assistance from Wendy who, in addition, managed all of the care and feeding of the team. Nicole took over the complex registration process, and worked with a local youth who helped at the registration desk, leaving well documented participant lists for the new hockey coordinator.
A recently acquired used Zamboni was not in working order, but thanks to the duo of Paul Kerrigan, a former Tigers Captain and himself an Uxbridge arena staff member, and handyman/engineer Sam Luinstra, the Zamboni was made operational and several drivers trained.
The team had been asked if they could share parenting suggestions, when the kids were dropped off at the arena. The community radio station was used for this purpose, and Coach Don, known in North Caribou as “the old man”, led these sessions assisted with the real life stories and prayers of Lue, Kirk and Wendy.
Early one morning the team was invited to take a tour of the community with the head Counsellor. They visited the newly formed "ice road", where last season's finale for Ice Road Truckers was filmed!, and then passed the community cemetery, where the team paid their respects.
Several additional objectives included: helping to expand sales of North Caribou products to global markets; broader opportunities for teenage youth, outside of the community; and the consideration of an Elders residence, enabling care for those coming back to their home community, to spend their last days.
We had several meetings with the Chief and council on these areas of engagement, and it is likely that a group of band council members will visit Uxbridge, to investigate ideas in the near future. The community feels so much more upbeat and optimistic than 4 years ago, and we thank God for helping the people there.
The team was thanked, with beautiful gifts of moccasins, hats and beaded items, and an invitation to come back next year was extended; a significant indication of their appreciation for the friendship with the people of Uxbridge.