The boys on the Deline Great Bear Lakers hockey club are wrapping up their final practices for one of their biggest games of the season. On Wednesday they'll be playing in front of the sport's ultimate trophy — the Stanley Cup.
The team, which formed earlier this fall, is made up of players between the ages of seven and 14. This week, they'll play a scrimmage on Little Lake, near Deline, N.W.T., believed to be the site where ice hockey was first played in 1825.
The story says members of Sir John Franklin's expedition played ice hockey there while wintering in an Arctic expedition. A note in Franklin's diary about his men playing the game is believed to be the first recorded mention of ice hockey in North America.
"The birthplace of hockey" is a mantle people in Deline wear with pride. This week, the cup will be in the community as part of the festivities ahead of Hockey Day in Canada on Feb. 8 in Yellowknife.
Carton Baton, Lucas Tutcho and Clay Highfield all play for the Lakers and shout out their favourite parts of the game: "Scoring! Teamwork! Having fun!"
Getting ready for the big game
The boys have been working on all aspects of their game, getting ready for the big day.
"I've practised how to stop, turning, hitting the cool shots, doing pushups," explained Tutcho, who's in Grade 6 at the Ehtseo Ayha School in Deline.
They'll be playing in brand new jerseys, which feature pictures of Great Bear Lake, bear claws and a trout. But still, they're a bit nervous. In addition to their big game on Wednesday in front of the cup, they also competed in a youth hockey tournament this weekend, taking on the team from Tulita, N.W.T., on Saturday.
The energy and enthusiasm is fabulous. They love the game. They really do. - Doug Cooper, Deline Great Bear Lakers coach
"The energy and enthusiasm is fabulous. They love the game. They really do," explained Doug Cooper, an English teacher and the Lakers' head coach. "There's a real buzz around the school."
Cooper organized the team this fall, getting the team ready to play with practices in the gym, outside, and eventually in the community arena.
"The boys are flying the flag for Deline … they're really proud," he said. "They're representing their community."
Over the week-long Hockey Day in Canada celebration, hockey's top prize is visiting a few Northern communities. Along with Deline, the Stanley Cup is making stops in Norman Wells, Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife where students are already preparing for their big day.
"Yeah, I'm excited to see it this week. I hope a team wins," said Leeya Prudhomme, who spent part of her day on Friday in a colouring contest at Weledeh Catholic School.
She chose to colour her hockey scene in rainbow colours, showing off her creativity.
Other students, including Brett Mackinnon, went the more traditional route. He coloured his jersey black and gold, with the colours of the Pittsburgh Penguins, his favourite team.
Mackinnon and his friends Ethan Bursey and Caelan Waddell play in Yellowknife's minor hockey league. They all love the game and think they spend more time on the ice than they do playing video games.
Who knows — maybe, with luck, one day they'll be playing for a chance to win the Stanley Cup for themselves.
Events for Hockey Day in Canada begin in Yellowknife on Wednesday and run until Saturday afternoon. Follow this link for all the information you need to know.