Fort Albany hockey teams left to practice outside or in gymnasium
The Fort Albany Islanders pose on an outdoor rink following a practice last season. The First Nation is the only community along the James Bay coast without an arena and so its minor hockey teams must practice on outdoor rinks or in the school gymnasium. Coach Charlotte Nakoochee is looking to raise funds for a new arena by entering the Aviva Community Fund competition and through other fundraising efforts.
Playing hockey on an outdoor rink is often viewed as a nostalgic reminder of the sport’s past for many Canadians and the go-to location for a game of pickup.
But for the community of Fort Albany, playing hockey outside is the only option for its organized teams. The First Nation is the only James Bay community without its own arena and so its players must brave the cold James Bay wind just to practice for an upcoming tournament.
“Last year was hard because when we practiced, we practiced outside my house,” said Charlotte Nakoochee, a youth cultural worker at the Health Centre in Fort Albany.
Nakochee helped her cousin coach a team of 14 players last year, but practice sessions were confined to a 30 by 15 foot rink Nakoochee had built in her yard.
“That’s not even enough space to practice for the team we had,” she said.
This season, Nakoochee said there are enough players to ice a team in the tyke, novice, atoms and peewee divisions. And since the temperatures are not cold enough to build an ice rink, teams are practicing in the school’s gymnasium.
Building an arena would not only provide a “decent place” to practice and play, but it would allow the community to host a tournament someday.
Though the community has tried to get funds to have an arena built in the past, Nakoochee is starting “new and fresh.” She has turned to the Aviva Community Fund competition, where any Canadian can submit an idea that will have “positive change” on their community. The idea is voted online by the public in a series of rounds. Aviva Canada Inc. offers $1 million to the competition.
Called “To get an Arena for Fort Albany First Nation,” Nakoochee submitted the entry on behalf of the team she coaches, the Fort Albany Islanders. The entry is asking for the maximum amount category, $100,000 -150,000.
Nakoochee said she is not sure how much an arena would cost, but said contractors will be submitting blueprints for an arena in the future.
Whatever the outcome of the Aviva competition, Nakoochee said her and the rest of the community’s hockey players will continue to push for an arena to be built.
“(The Aviva competition) would help and we would fundraise as well,” she said. “We already have events coming up.”
The second round of the Aviva Community Fund competition concluded on Nov. 26. Aviva will announce the semi-finalists on Nov. 28.
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