Hockey stars convene in Iqaluit

Summer camp prepares pint-sized players for life on ice



Somebody better warn Jordin Tootoo: Nunavut has some new hockey stars eyeing the big leagues.

Over 100 pint-sized and medium-sized hockey players, aged five to 19, from around the territory joined grown-up celebrities on the ice in Iqaluit for three days last week, for the 3rd annual Nunavut Stars Summer Hockey Camp.

Kids from Iqaluit were joined by players from Arviat, Arctic Bay, Rankin Inlet, Cape Dorset, Kimmirut and Ottawa for the camp, which ran Aug. 18-21.

Organizers of the star-studded event said the camp sets itself apart from any other youth training event in the North, because it’s free for any child wanting to join, and it was attended by a long list of celebrity guests including Wayne Gretzky’s father, Walter.

Jesse Mike, an 18-year-old player from Iqaluit, said the camp provides an opportunity for kids in Nunavut who can’t afford their own equipment, or the registration fees usually associated with summer camps.

Mike, arguably the best female player in the territory, said it’s important to get Nunavut youth involved in the sport because usually they don’t have many other options for fun.

“A lot of them are dependent on hockey,” said Mike, who helped organize the camp with other Iqaluit volunteers. “Sometimes, it’s the only thing they have besides going to school.

“I don’t think I would be in such a good state right now, mentally and physically, if it wasn’t for hockey.”

Todd Tilley, director of the Iqaluit Amateur Hockey Association, said besides giving a helping hand to underprivileged kids, the camp also boosts local interest in the sport.

He said early registration has been skyrocketing every fall since the camp began three years ago. Tilley, a hockey dad for three sons, said he’s glad to see youth excited about the game because he says it gives kids a chance to build their self-confidence and work ethic.

“It’s something they’re passionate about,” he said. “I could think of a lot worse things they could be passionate about.

“I haven’t met a parent yet who doesn’t like what hockey does for their kid.”

The camp started two years ago, partially as the brainchild of local volunteers Glen Higgins and John Thomas. A growing list of corporate and government donations reduced the financial burden on the local hockey association, which chipped in $34,000 for the event last year.

Ken Broderick, a former goalie for the Boston Bruins who used to play with hockey legend Bobby Orr, said the camp has special meaning for donors, and volunteers like him because it breaks down barriers for local youth looking for something to do.

“It’s all about the kids,” he said. “Learning the game of hockey [helps them] learn some skills and take some pride.”

Special guests also included Mike Pelino, from the Canadian Men’s National Team, Therese Brisson and Sammy-Jo Small from the Canadian Women’s National Team, and Andy Nowicki, a goalie coach from the L.A. Kings. Among the main sponsors were First Air, the Frobisher Inn, Northwestel, the City of Iqaluit, and the Wayne Gretzky Foundation.

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