Sandy Lake was among the big winners at the Little Bands tournament in Sioux Lookout and now some of the players from the midget team are heading back for the upcoming Northern Bands Hockey Tournament.
Sandy Lake won the Midget A-Side, Peewee A-Side, Girls B-Side, Novice B-Side, Atom C-Side and Bantam C-Side championships during the Little Bands tournament, held Feb. 10-16 at the Sioux Lookout Memorial Arena and Lac Seul Events Centre.
Many of Sandy Lake’s championship midget team players will be playing with the men’s teams at the upcoming March 10-16 Northern Bands Hockey Tournament.
“Their hockey has really improved and they really matured too,” said Nora Jane Meekis, midget team manager. “Most of them are playing with the men’s team now, the one that will be coming out for the next tournament in March.”
Meekis said most of the players on the community’s 2014 Little Bands Native Youth Hockey Tournament A-Side championship midget team were 18 years old.
“It was their last year last year, and then all of a sudden the ages went up for midgets,” Meekis said. “Last year I told them it was their last year because it only went up to 17 years.”
Meekis is not sure who will represent the community next year on the midget team.
“On my list there are only six of them right now,” Meekis said. “And I’m not sure how many will move up from the bantam team.”
Meekis began working with the midget team players when they were peewee players.
“At first I was chaperoning them,” Meekis said. “And the last three years I was manager for the (midget) team.”
Gary Manokeesic, atom team coach, has been coaching the same group of players over the past four years, originally with the novice team and now with the atom team.
“I have two boys who have heart conditions in the atom division,” Manokeesic said, noting one of the players is his son. “The reason I’m there is I have to keep an eye on my son, and I also have his buddy there who also has a heart condition.”
Manokeesic said more players in the community are getting involved in hockey at a younger age.
“The atoms and the novices are going to be very good hockey players once they hit the peewees and the bantams,” Manokeesic said. “They have an edge on our midget team — our midget team started playing hockey when they were peewees. We have players who started four years ago and they are not even in peewees yet.”
Manokeesic said the players will go a long way if they keep motivated, eat right, stay active and think positive.
“Everything we can do for these children for their future is a very positive note,” Manokeesic said.
Meekis said the community raised about $60,000 over the past year through flea markets, bingos and food sales to help support the six Little Bands teams during the Feb. 10-16 tournament, held in Sioux Lookout and Lac Seul.
“We were pretty happy to get the A-Side championships and were are proud of all the kids coming home with trophies,” said Wayne Kakepetum, band councillor with the recreation and special events portfolio. “The kids had fun. Kids are kids — win or lose, they still had fun.”
Kakepetum coached the girls team last year, but he stepped down after being elected to the band council.
“It was pretty exciting,” Kakepetum said. “I was pretty impressed with the girls, even though they didn’t win any games last year. Last year there was no girls division, so they were playing against boys.”
Dolores Kakegamic, girls team manager, said the tournament was more exciting for the players this year because they were playing against their own gender.
“I know they enjoyed themselves, but our girls are at that age where they are sort of prim now,” Kakegamic said. “So it would be makeup and perfume before the game and brown/black eyes before it’s over from all their sweat. It was kind of cute, actually.”
Kakegamic said the girls improved during the tournament, noting they were the only team that was not mercy ruled by the A-Side champions from Bearskin Lake.
“Even though we didn’t score, we kept up with them,” Kakegamic said. “And we played twice against Lac Seul. The first time we lost 5-0 and our second game against them was 4-4, so there was a big improvement by the time we met up with them the second time.”
Kakegamic said the girls team will lose a couple of players next year but other girls are ready to play.
“If they start and keep improving, I think we’ll do OK,” Kakegamic said. “And we do have a couple of girls who live in Thunder Bay, who have joined leagues over there, so hopefully they will get much better.”
Kakegamic said the girls team improved this year after they started playing against the atom team.
“That way we got to play every day, and the atoms got to play every day too,” Kakegamic said, noting the teams were only playing three times a week previously. “Even the peewees wanted to have a game or two with them, just to show the girls what else they can do out there. They did have one game against the peewees and they didn’t do too bad.”
Darlene Kakepetum, coach of the girls team, said the girls had an “awesome time” at the tournament.
“They really enjoyed playing against the bigger girls, especially Bearskin,” Darlene said. “It was a challenge for them but they did pretty well.”
Darlene said the girls are looking forward to playing again next year, noting they are already playing games back home to gain more experience.
“Yesterday they played hockey and tonight we are playing against the women,” Darlene said.
“It’s a good motivation for the girls — to build their self confidence and their self esteem.”
Darlene believes the girls division now provides a goal for younger girls to aim for across northwestern Ontario.
“I think it’s motivating the girls all over the northern region,” Darlene said.
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