By Chris Marchand
There’s nothing quite like a $24,000 cheque to make a winning team smile at the end of a long, hard week of hockey.
And it was fairly certain, from the first period on, that Sandy Lake’s River Hawks would be taking home that grand prize as they dominated throughout the A-side final versus Slate Falls’ Bamaji Ice.
The Ice would struggle and ultimately fail to get a single shot past River Hawks goalie Keeshtin Fiddler, while sharp forwards like Osbourne Kakepetum banged in goal after unanswered goal, sealing the 6-0 shut-out win for Sandy Lake.
The Bamaji Ice took home a $16,000 runner-up prize.
The B-side final saw the Kasabonika Islanders claim a $10,000 prize, while the B-side runners-up, a one-line team from Poplar Hill earned big respect and $7,000 in winnings.
After 118 games, a weary tournament organizer Max Kakepetum, of Sandy Lake, says he was pleased with the way the week unfolded in Dryden as 40 teams, over 800 players and as many if not more supporters arrived in Dryden from points all over the Far North. While some had arrived by air, Kakepetum says most tournament goers opt to drive the winter road system.
In over three decades, he says he’s learned a lot about what works well and what doesn’t.
“A process like this has taken me 33 years,” said Kakepetum. “I think it’s just knowing what the teams want. You can’t satisfy everybody all the time, but we try to do different things all the time.”
Dropping the C-side division from this year’s tournament was one of those innovations.
“It makes for bigger prizes and also the teams don’t start losing games on purpose, they have to win every game. The teams are getting better. If you go back 15 years, none of them had arenas in their home communities. Now, they get to practice.”
Kakepetum had high praise for chief referee Gary Wood and the officials who were kept busy throughout the week. He says Dryden’s dual arena and flexible ice times make for an attractive venue to which they have already made plans to return in 2019.
“It’s really good for us that we play all the games in one building,” he said. “With 40 teams, you can stay here into the evening without having to go to another arena.”
With hotels booked solid and restaurants and retail outlets running a brisk trade, Kakepetum says the controversy over Senator Lynn Beyak’s remarks over Residential Schools were a minor consideration in the context of a long-standing positive relationship with the city.
“It wasn’t really an issue for us,” said Kakepetum. “We know how the city has accepted us the last three or four years we’ve been here. Of course we’re concerned about it when somebody says things like that, but we like to be good citizens among the citizens here. Not only that but your neighbours at Eagle Lake and Wabigoon Lake, they are our First Nations friends too and we respect them. They are letting us come to play in their territory.”