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All things considered, the 11th annual Little Bands Junior Native Hockey Tournament was a mark in the win column after seven days of hockey, Feb. 11-17.
In a rivalry as old as the tournament itself, the Lac Seul’s Midget Team exacted revenge on Sandy Lake for a 10-1 drubbing in 2012’s A-side final with a 4-1 victory — restoring their bragging rights as tournament champions in the fifth straight meeting between the two teams in the final.
New beginnings are delicate times for a tournament of such a scale in a new community and scheduling itself seemed to be the only hiccup of much significance. Mid-tournament, organizers moved to a new knockout format — working with the city to move all games to Dryden-based arenas and cancelling others which had been previously scheduled for farther-flung Eagle Lake and Vermilion Bay rinks. The tournament saw a major growth spurt with its move to Dryden making use of its capacity to move from 36 to 104 teams.
The tournament even had a brush with politics earlier in the week as former Kenora Riding NDP candidate Tania Cameron appeared on CBC Radio framing a Neighbourhood Watch letter issued by Dryden Police Chief Rob Davis, himself a Six Nations Mohawk, as a form of racial profiling’.
Tournament organizers said they weren’t interested in wading into controversy.
Lil’ Bands’ Ziggy Beardy said the tournament was about kids playing hockey, many of whom had been fundraising for a year to raise between $10,000 to $20,000 per team to make the trip.
“It’s the first time that a town has welcomed us with open arms,” said Beardy. “We’ve seen a lot of signs welcoming us. We have our contact, Andi (Kidd) who was there if we needed anything. There was great support.”
Beardy says that shopping at Wal Mart was likely the most popular non-hockey related activity for tournament goers.
“For some of the young kids it’s their first time in Dryden, or first time skating on artificial ice,” said Beardy. “Some of them don’t have arenas up north, just a pond or outdoor rink. They’re passionate about hockey and are out skating even though they typically don’t have much structure, programming, or coaching.”
Lac Seul also captured the Bantam A-side over Sachigo Lake, while the Pee Wee A-side final went to Slate Falls over Lac Seul. Sachigo would captured the Atom Division final over Bearskin Lake. Sandy Lake would win the Novice A-side final by a single goal over Sachigo Lake.
Beardy says its looks as though organizers will stage a return of the Little Bands tournament to Dryden in 2014. City officials report that a business has already approached the tournament with an interest in becoming a major sponsor.
By Chris Marchand