Jet vets get boost from young speedsters
The Bushtown Jets from Eabametoong, winners of the 2014 Northern Bands Hockey Tournament.
Sid Atlookan, left, celebrates Bushtown’s championship with his teammate and dad, Leo. A 40-year-old defenceman, Leo has now won eight Northern Bands and Northern First Nations tournament championships with Eabametoong teams. “My brother, Walter Atlookan, was tied with me with seven but he couldn’t make it this year,” Leo says. “So I’m leading now.”
The Bushtown Jets from Eabametoong brought a fresh look to the Northern Bands Hockey Tournament and left as champions.
Runners up at the Northern First Nations Hockey Tournament in Sioux Lookout last year, the Jets and several other teams instead opted for the rival Northern Bands event in Dryden this March Break. It featured 29 teams playing in almost 100 games from March 11 to 16.
On Sunday afternoon, only the Jets were left standing.
Bushtown bolstered its veteran roster with several young players who also competed in Sioux Lookout in 2013, but as members of the mostly teenaged Eabametoong Outlaws.
The new-look Jets met an old foe in the Northern Bands A-side final: Pikangikum.
Defenceman Leo Atlookan, 40, was one of a half dozen Bushtown players around long enough to remember losing to a Pikangikum team in a Northern Bands championship game way back in 1993. “They beat us in overtime, with 47 seconds left before (it) ended,” Atlookan recalled.
It’s a long time to carry a grudge, and team lineups and nicknames have changed several times since. But with Atlookan’s Jets facing the Pikangikum Ice Bears for the tournament title in 2014, “We talked about that (’93 game) in the dressing room and said ‘This is not happening again.’ ”
If Bushtown’s youngsters needed motivation from a more recent defeat, they could think about how it felt earlier in the week when they were upset 4-3 by the Pikangikum Wild. And the nine players who had been Outlaws last year would remember a lopsided loss to the Pikangikum Screaming Otters in Sioux Lookout, interrupted at one point by a line brawl.
With that history and a cash prize of $20,000 awaiting the winner, the Jets and Ice Bears played the Northern Bands championship game with the intensity fans expected, battling fiercely along the boards and in front of the nets.
One of Bushtown’s former Outlaws, Louie Wapoose, scored first on a power play by carrying the puck over the blue-line and firing a slapshot down off the crossbar and in. Later in the period, Justin Wabano weaved his way through three defenders in front of Pikangikum’s net and slid the puck under goalie Livio Dunsford for his first of two goals.
The Jets got an even faster start to the second period, when it took just 16 seconds for Clint Atlookan to find the back of the net with a backhand during another power play.
Even when Pikangikum got a man advantage with Wabano off for tripping, the Ice Bears gave up two breakaway chances. Saves by tournament MVP Dunsford bailed them out. At these times and others, the Bears seemed overwhelmed by Bushtown’s smart puck movement and youthful speed.
“It was all hard work,” Leo Atlookan said. “We kept preaching to each other on the bench, ‘No matter what happens, penalties, power play, just keep going, keep the rhythm going.’ ”
By the time the second period was over, Leo had scored too – on a shot from the top of the face-off circle – making the score 6-0 and turning up the volume on cheers from Bushtown supporters.
Pikangikum had quality scoring chances too but they were sporadic, and Bushtown goalie Mathew Shawinimash was sharp. The third period was almost halfway done when Ice Bear Gregory Pascal finally ruined Shawinimash’s shutout bid by scooping in a rebound on a shot from teammate Davius Turtle.
Bushtown had the last say, though, when Chris Bois, another ex-Outlaw, broke loose on a breakaway and beat Dunsford through the five-hole, making the final score 7-1.
“Fast, young guys, along with the veteran core – it’s a pretty good mix,” said Shawinimash, 39, who was named the tournament’s best goaltender. “It’s a pretty good system, actually, having a young group get some experience (with another team), then move them up to the Bushtown Jets.”
One of the young players was Leo Atlookan’s son, Sid, who had an assist in the final. “I won today with my son and my nephews,” Atlookan said. “It was awesome.”
Missing from Bushtown’s post-game celebration was his mother, Jane, who stays in Eabametoong each March when Leo and four other sons travel south to play hockey.
“I want to thank my mom,” Atlookan said, thinking back to childhood hockey games, before the rivalry with Pikangikum. “When we didn’t have equipment to play, she made equipment for us using cardboard and mattresses, stuff like that. The goalie would wear pillows. She would make up all these things.”
And when it got too cold for her boys to wear the equipment outside, she let them have their games in the house.
“She always made sure we could play hockey.”
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