It was a full house at the Kahnawake Sports Complex this weekend as over 100 tried out for their chance to compete in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) this year. Six Kahnawa’kehró:non made the men’s team, including Bocephus Dailleboust, who was among those picked first.
“It was so, so packed,” said the 17-year-old, who made the trip from his hockey academy in Cornwall, Ontario. “There were so many kids they couldn’t even fit us in the dressing room. Some people had to get ready in the hall.”
Dailleboust is among four from last year’s roster who will be rejoining Team Eastern Door and the North (EDN) as it prepares to compete alongside Onkwehón:we from across the country this May in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
Locals Pryor Stacey, Rome Delisle, Cade Stacey, Rohsennakehte Lahache, and Marcus Diabo will also play alongside him. Ryan Stacey, also from Kahnawake, made the girls’ team.
“Some people thought the selection camp was hard, but that’s just the beginning,” said Dailleboust, a Midget AAA player with the Ontario Hockey Academy, where he’s been for the last two years. “I’m more focused on how I’m going to lead this team, and putting them in the right direction to beat the other teams there.”
Kahnawake’s minor hockey players have a long history participating in the NAHC, but it’s been over a decade since Team EDN came out victorious. The last time the women’s team won was in 2013, in Kahnawake. The men’s team also won in 2012, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Both teams will be made up of 18-20 First Nations and Inuit players between the ages of 13 to 17 from across Quebec, said Steeve Gros-Louis, the head coach for the men’s team. Others were also named as back-ups.
“There was a nice atmosphere, and there were a lot of youth that wrote to me after they got home to say they were happy to have participated in the camp, even if they hadn’t been selected,” said Gros-Louis, who hails from the Huron-Wendat nation.
“This camp is just as important for those who are picked as it is for those who aren’t. It gives a chance for everyone to assert themselves, and gives hope to the younger ones who still have work to do, that they have what it takes to get onto next year’s team.”
About half of all the players were eliminated on Saturday, he said, before a final game on Saturday crowned the picks for both teams. While the majority that turned out came from Kahnawake, a good number also came from First Nation and Inuit communities in the north, he said.
Besides Dailleboust, players Lucas Gunner of Mistissini, Jeremy Picard of Pessamit, and Mishikon Whiteduck of Maniwaki will also be rejoining the men’s team, the head coach said. Dailleboust is the only returning player from Kahnawake. Local Cam White was also selected this year as a back-up.
“They arrived at the camp with their mind set on rejoining the team this year, and they were dominant on the ice,” said Gros-Louis, who also coached for the championship last year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “They knew what it would take to make the team.”
Dailleboust’s mother, Carla Diabo, said it was incredible to see so many boys and girls from across Turtle Island playing their hearts out.
“It was amazing seeing so much Indigenous talent on the ice all at once,” she said. “Congratulations to all the kids who tried out. You all were amazing and you all have talent. Keep going, experience is growth.”
Diabo was surprised to see only one local girl, Ryan Stacey, made the final pick for the girls team.
“I feel like I played aggressive, and I have a hard shot,” said 13-year-old Stacey. “It’s fast-paced hockey, and some of the girls couldn’t really keep up with it.”
She’s the youngest player to make the female team. Up until now she’s been playing for the Lac St. Louis Warriors’s Bantam AAA team. Her brother Cade Stacey also made the pick this year.
“I’m proud of myself, because when I was going in there I was a little bit nervous because I’m still young, and I noticed that a lot of girls that I tried out with were older,” Stacey added. “I can’t wait. I’m so excited to experience it.”