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Skills event an add-on to exciting tournament action
For the second straight year many of the country’s top Aboriginal teenaged hockey players will be deciding national bragging rights in Saskatoon.
The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) are scheduled for May 7 through 12. All matches will be held at Jemini, a Saskatoon-based four-pad facility.
Sixteen teams representing eight provinces, territories or regions will compete at the tournament, which will include both female and male divisions.
Among the squads that will participate at the event are host Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Northwest Territories. Also taking part will be Team Atlantic, comprised of players from the Maritime provinces, as well as Quebec-based clubs called Eastern Door and the North.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council will once again be hosting the tournament, which has been held annually since 2002.
But this year’s event will feature a first.
“We’ll be incorporating a skills competition,” said tournament manager Mark Arcand. “And then we want to have a banquet that night. It’s just to give most of the players and teams a day off so they can sit back and relax and have some fun.”
While there has never been a skills competition at the NAHC, some previous editions of the tournament did have a banquet. But last year’s tournament did not have one.
Though details are still being finalized, Arcand said he anticipates all teams to have 3 to 5 of their players take part in the skills competition.
Some of the anticipated events that will be staged are hardest shot, accuracy, fastest skater and a breakaway competition.
“We’re going to have some fun prizes for that,” Arcand said of the skills competition. “We just want to have a fun atmosphere and make it as interesting as possible for everybody.”
Organizers are planning to stage the skills competition on the afternoon of May 10, after some relegation contests are held that morning. And the plan is to have the banquet that night.
As for this year’s tournament, it will be slightly bigger than the 2011 version, which attracted 13 teams.
All of the participating clubs from a year ago are back. And those who have also entered are a pair of Atlantic squads as well as an Ontario female side.
Ontario had been one of the powers in the female division in previous years of the NAHC.
“This year it will be good to have them back,” Arcand said.
Saskatchewan won both the female and male divisions at the 2011 nationals.
But Arcand said it’s difficult to predict the winners of this year’s tournament.
“It’s going to be wide open,” he said.
The boys’ category will feature just midget-aged (15-17) players. And the girls’ division will feature bantam and midget players (13-17). Girls’ teams, however, can also include up to four overagers—players who are either 18 or 19.
But a new tournament rule will exclude some elite individuals. Any player that has competed in a Hockey Canada national team program will not be allowed to play in the tournament.
Another new rule—which will only apply to those in the female division because of the higher age grouping —is that teams cannot ice a player who also toils for any post-secondary team in Canada or the United States.
“It’s going to be a more equal playing field,” Arcand said, adding in the past some clubs have dominated because of their overagers who also toiled in the collegiate ranks.
About 3,000 fans attended the 2011 NAHC. Arcand said organizers are hoping this number will increase this year. He believes the spectator numbers will go up in part because both of the Saskatchewan clubs enter the event as defending champs.
Arcand believes people will be showing up to see how the host squads fare this time around.
“That will create some awareness the whole week,” he said of the host team’s successes from last year.
Arcand added organizers are also doing their best to have some more talent seekers attend the tournament.
“We’re trying to increase the awareness of the tournament and have some more scouts there,” he said.
Various scouts from Junior A clubs were among those who took in the action a year ago. Arcand is hoping scouts from some higher calibre Western Hockey League teams, as well as reps from various post-secondary schools, decide to attend this year.
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