“It’s been a priority for us to get involved with our surrounding First Nations. It’s very hard to do though with some of those communities being so remote and fly-in communities.”
By Sam Laskaris
RED LAKE, Ont.
The English River Miners, members of the Superior International Junior Hockey League, have won a league-wide award for their community service, which included volunteer work with a First Nation.
The Miners, a Junior A team, play their home contests in Red Lake, located more than 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay and less than 100 kilometres from the Ontario/Manitoba border.
This past Friday it was announced the English River squad is the inaugural recipient of the SIJHL’s Team Community Service Award. SIJHL officials plan to present this award each year to honour a franchise for its community service work.
During the 2017-18 season, the Miners players and staff members collectively volunteered more than 1,600 hours with various community projects.
Ventures included working with McDowell Lake First Nation officials and youth to make a public service announcement about cyberbullying, suicide awareness and other social causes.
Miners’ head coach/general manager Derek Sweet-Coulter is thrilled with the number of volunteer projects his squad was involved with and that it captured the league’s community service award.
“Our primary goal is to develop these boys into men,” he said. “This (volunteer work) really helps with their development.”
Though he would be in the loop, Sweet-Coulter required plenty of help from his players and staff to make sure all of the club’s volunteer efforts ran smoothly.
“My job is to make sure we have the proper personnel and the scheduling of the kids with the various volunteer efforts,” he said. “Sometimes that means delegating some of the work to the leadership on the team. Giving them that responsibility adds to their leadership.”
Sweet-Coulter is entering his fourth season as the Miners’ head coach/GM. He said his club will continue its numerous volunteer efforts next year.
“Of course it would be great to win (the SIJHL community service award) again next season,” he said. “But that’s not what it is about. It’s about helping the kids out and helping the community.”
The Miners are one of six franchises in the SIJHL. Three other squads from Ontario – Thunder Bay North Stars, Dryden Ice Dogs and Fort Frances Lakers – are also in the league.
Two Minnesota-based clubs, the Thief River Falls Norskies and the Minnesota Iron Rangers, also compete in the SIJHL.
The circuit is one of 10 Junior A leagues across Canada that collectively play under the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).
All 10 circuits have their own playoffs and declare a league champion. Those champs then advance to regional qualifying tournaments with the hopes of competing in their national championship, dubbed the RBC Cup tournament.
The 2018 RBC Cup is being staged this week in Chilliwack, B.C.
Marissa Melanson, a child and youth case worker for the McDowell Lake First Nation, was heavily involved with week-long workshops that included 30 members of the First Nation as well as members of the Miners.
A pair of motivational speakers, Dakota House and Scott Ward, were brought to Red Lake to run morning and afternoon workshops.
“Two (English River) players came to each workshop,” Melanson said. “So there was probably 10-12 of them there during the week.”
The workshops were aimed at those ages 12 to 25.
“Some adults also took part,” Melanson said, adding that was more than fine to have others take part if they felt they could benefit from the workshops.
Ward also performs a comedy and hypnotist show. All of the Miners’ players attended that event.
“They all came out to volunteer and help run the event,” Melanson said. “They were helping sell tickets and food. And some of them agreed to be hypnotized during the show.”
During the week-long workshops, which were held in March, Melanson, House and Ward helped the McDowell Lake youth create a public service announcement focusing on drug addiction.
“It was shown at the end of the week,” Melanson said. “And there was some talk the commercial might be shown at some film festivals.”
Because of a lack of infrastructure in their First Nation—there is no electricity or running water—all McDowell Lake residents move away for portions of the year. Many of those residents live in Red Lake.
Warren Badiuk, the Miners’ community liaison, said the organization is keen to work with a number of Indigenous communities.
“It’s been a priority for us to get involved with our surrounding First Nations,” he said. “It’s very hard to do though with some of those communities being so remote and fly-in communities.”
Badiuk added he was thrilled he was able to bring parties together this season.
“With McDowell Lake they approached us and we were more than happy to get on board,” he said.
Badiuk added the Miners would welcome the opportunity to work with the First Nation again in some capacity during the 2018-19 campaign.
“If they want us to work with us, that would be great,” he said.