About six years ago, Tewakerahkwatase White got her start in hockey on outdoor ice rinks in Kahnawake. Now, she’s been selected to be part of Team Eastern Door and the North (EDN) to attend the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) in late spring.
Over the two-day long selection camp from January 6-7, hockey players from Indigenous communities across the country shared the ice to vie for a spot on the EDN girls’ team and boys’ team and head off to Winnipeg, Manitoba, for the championship held from May 7-13.
“They really went hard on us to get ready,” said White of the coaches during the tryouts. “I liked it. It was a good experience.”
Seven girls – Lexey Leclaire, Shyanna Day, Niio Diabo, Tiako Montour, Hariaks Deer, Tewakerahkwatase White, and Casey Dailleboust – and three boys – Jesse Lahache Jr., Bocephus Dailleboust, and Cade Stacey – from Kahnawake were selected for team EDN.
With more girls participating in tryouts than last year, coaches have had a chance to put together a more competitive team.
“I’m a pretty demanding coach, I was demanding towards myself all along my career, so I was definitely demanding of them over the weekend,” said head coach for the EDN girls’ team Adam Jourdain, who is from Uashat-Maliotenam. And players on the ice seemed to appreciate the approach.
“I like it more strict because it puts me in shape,” said White, who attended the tryouts for the first time this year.
“It was more intense, and they pushed us really to our max to see everything that we had,” said Kahnawa’kehró:non Shyanna Day, comparing her experience from last year’s tryouts to this one. Day not only made the cut for the girls’ EDN team but has also been named its assistant captain.
After four practices on the ice, 18 out of the 21 girls who participated in the tryouts made the team. But compiling the list of those who qualified requires some pretty tough calls, especially when it comes down to the last few spots left to fill.
“It’s always painful. It’s not fun, but it’s always these last decisions that are the toughest ones,” said Jourdain. After long discussions and reflections, he estimated it took him and the two assistant coaches, Ross Leclaire and Kwaronienhawi Jacobs from Kahnawake, about 10 hours to make their final decision.
“I’m excited for the experience again because last year it was really fun. I made a lot of memories, new friends, and it really improved my game,” said Day. “It’s really just the memories and the people you meet along the way, all the life lessons that you learn. It’s not just the sport, it’s everything about it.”
The thrill of participating in the NAHC is a feeling the coaches share with those taking the ice.
Although Jourdain has been coaching male teams throughout his career, spanning about 16 years, he specifically chose to coach the girls’ team for this championship.
“The reason I wanted to coach the girls is that I wanted to give them the hockey experience I have,” he said, having played three years for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, a Junior ice hockey team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Jourdain is looking forward to embarking on his first-ever experience as a girls’ hockey coach as the players prepare to leave for Winnipeg in just a few months.
“I’ve coached pretty amazing players in my life, but it’s all about finding good strategies. I love that. I love breaking my head over that, and (the girls) are great hockey players, some of them are excellent,” said Jourdain.
For Leclaire, who attended the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) back in 2002 as a golf player and doubled as a coach – which kickstarted his coaching career – the high of a big tournament is something he’s all too familiar with.
“It’s become a passion to coach now, and I’m really looking forward to that. And my daughter (Lexey Leclaire) being on a team is a big plus,” he said.
For him, qualifying for the EDN team is an achievement not only because they’re participating in a national competition, but also because of the influence the players will have. “These girls are like role models towards the younger girls,” he said.
The NAHC will take place at the Seven Oaks Arena and is expecting over 500 participants to be in attendance, according to the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC).
“It’s always good to compare yourself to other people, other players across Canada. It brings on a certain challenge, and brings you out of your comfort zone. I think that’s what we’re looking for in this championship,” said Jourdain.
Now for the months leading up to the tournament, coaches plan to maintain an open line of communications with the players and create a team spirit via online platforms and compensate for the distance.
“When a team believes in its abilities, I think they can achieve things, so I can’t wait to see what happens in Winnipeg,” said Jourdain.