Inuvik Huskies back on the ice for all-Indigenous Fred Sasakamoose hockey tournament

·3 min read
The Inuvik Huskies after winning the 33rd Annual IRC Cup A Division. (Facebook - image credit)
The Inuvik Huskies after winning the 33rd Annual IRC Cup A Division. (Facebook - image credit)

A group of Indigenous hockey players is reviving a team started by their fathers decades ago.

For the first time in 25 years, the Inuvik Huskies are back on the ice, playing the Fred Sasakamoose "Chief Thunderstick" National Hockey Championship this week.

Mickey Ipana, captain of the rebooted Inuvik Huskies, has memories of his dad playing for the team, and like many of the team's players, Ipana's been playing since he was a kid.

"A lot of us played hockey our whole lives…. We've been getting ready for Freddy," he laughs.

The Huskies played their first game on Thursday. The tournament runs until Sunday.

Huskies first got together 40 years ago

The Inuvik Huskies first began 40 years ago when the community wanted to have a team of "West End Boys" to compete with the Canadian Forces hockey players in town.

Submitted by Mickey Ipana
Submitted by Mickey Ipana

Ipana's father put together a recreational team of all Indigenous men. Ipana used to be the stick boy, carrying their equipment.

In Inuvik the local Roy "Sugloo" Ipana Arena is named after Ipana's dad, who created the team.

The team went on hiatus — the players got older, had children and houses, and had busy lives.

Ipana said they decided to bring back the Huskies "to show some respect" to their parents and the hockey players that are getting older.

The team won the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation tournament earlier this year. Now, said Ipana, the revitalized Huskies will see where this tournament takes them.

It's an exciting time in hockey, with the "battle of Alberta," he laughs, referring to the face-off between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers in round 2 of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Being from the northwest, Ipana said, they're cheering for the Oilers.

But when the puck drops at the Fred Sasakamoose tournament, it's all about bringing pride to local hockey through an all-Indigenous hockey championship in Saskatchewan.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press
Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Fred Sasakamoose of Ahtahkakoop First Nation was the first Indigenous player with treaty status in the NHL.

The Inuvik Huskies is made up of people who are Gwich'in, Inuvialuit and Métis who live in Inuvik. A rule for the tournament is that the team must be composed of people from its home community.

"To promote pride in your local community, your reservation, they made the rule that you have to play for your own home," Ipana said.

Submitted by Mickey Ipana
Submitted by Mickey Ipana

He said it would have been easier to put together a team with people from Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Aklavik and Fort McPherson, but "to play for Inuvik, your home has to be Inuvik," he said.

Still, there are many people originally from coastal N.W.T. communities who play for and live in Inuvik.

Ipana said the team is an effort of the community, and he thanked all the Inuvik business that helped them get to Saskatoon.

"Inuvik is such a tight-knit community that not one person can take all the glory," he said.

'Go full circle'

Today's Huskies has several players whose parents were on the team in the early days.

And the team is thinking of starting a "little huskies" program, said Ipana, to get young people interested in hockey at young age age.

Ipana hopes young people across the North will come together and start to build connections that keep them in the sport.

"We hope its gonna go full circle for us. We're trying to do the same thing that our parents did," he said.

"Hockey is a good sport and it builds character on and off the ice."

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