Dryden tournament participation up, Sioux Lookout down
Ken Goodwin Jr., Northern Bands tournament assistant co-ordinator.
For those keeping score, the Northern Bands Hockey Tournament in Dryden attracted more than twice as many teams this March Break as its rival, the Northern First Nations Hockey Tournament in Sioux Lookout. Final score: 29-14.
The 29 teams at the Northern Bands, representing remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario, is up from 23 last year, when the event made a comeback at the twin rinks in Dryden.
Competing for teams from the same area, the Sioux Lookout tournament dropped from 17 teams to just 14. Normally a week long, organizers condensed the tournament to five days. Some of its games were also played in nearby Lac Seul for the first time, where there is a new 1,300-seat arena.
The Northern Bands, co-ordinated by Max Kakepetum, enjoyed its heydays in Sioux Lookout during the 1980s and ’90s before moving to Thunder Bay for a few years, then shutting down.
Filling the void in Sioux Lookout, the Northern First Nations tournament has operated for 14 years. For most of those years, 32 teams participated and others stood by on a waiting list.
But this year’s numbers suggest the Northern Bands, with Kakepetum back as co-ordinator, has firmly re-established itself as the region’s most popular hockey event for the March Break.
Organizers from Sandy Lake said last year they brought the tournament back because of complaints the Sioux Lookout tournament unfairly allowed teams to bolster their rosters with players who transferred band membership from other communities, and with band members who had always lived and played hockey in the south.
Northern Bands rules make those players ineligible.
“With the teams here, it’s like playing the boy next door, playing your cousins, playing your uncle,” Ken Goodwin Jr., assistant co-ordinator of the Northern Bands, said as this year’s tournament wound down. “I think that’s what the tournament should really be about – just down-home hockey; no big ringers.”
A new Northern Bands rule for 2014 also prevented players from competing in both tournaments, as some did last year.
Runner-up teams from all three Sioux Lookout championship games in 2013 – Bushtown Jets (A-side runner-up), Kingfisher Lake Flyers (B-side) and Weagamow Hawks (C-side) – all moved to Dryden this year. As 2014 Northern Bands champions, the Jets, from Eabametoong, took home the top cash prize of $20,000.
In Sioux Lookout, the Lac Seul Eagles won their fourth consecutive title and $15,000.
The KI Native Wings were another team that switched to the Dryden tournament for 2014.
“We like coming to Dryden … the arrangements with the two arenas,” said Steven Chapman, head coach of the Wings. “Everything is closer, central to the arenas, and more teams are coming here.”
Goodwin, of Sandy Lake, said he started making phone calls in September to recruit teams to the Northern Bands. He also used Facebook as a promotional tool.
“Every month I would do a little (Facebook) update, like ‘Nine more months, boys’ or ‘Is anybody training?’ – little things like that. We had over 2,000 ‘Likes’ on our Facebook just the past three months and only 700 when we started. It’s an awesome tool.”
Goodwin confirmed the Northern Bands would return to Dryden in 2015.
Visitors to the Northern First Nations Tournament website offered a range of suggestions for overhauling the Sioux Lookout event for next March Break. Among the options discussed: opening the men’s tournament to teams from a wider area that would include northeastern Ontario, Treaty 3 communities and perhaps even Manitoba; combining the hockey tournament with a women’s broomball tournament and other major activities; replacing the men’s tournament with youth hockey (a last-minute attempt this spring to organize a bantam/midget tournament alongside the men’s didn’t draw enough teams to make it feasible).
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