Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Dates and a location have been chosen, but there are still numerous organizational details to be worked out for the inaugural National Indigenous Junior Hockey Championships.
The event, which will be staged in Toronto from June 2 to June 6, 2025, will be an Under 20 tourney and is expected to primarily include players ages 17 to 20.
The concept for a new national tournament was launched by Stephane Friday and his partner Abigail Linklater, who are the co-founders of the popular Hockey Indigenous website.
The pair feel there is a need for a new event since there is a notable gap in age groupings at existing Canadian championships for Indigenous players.
The annual National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC), which rotates from city to city across the country, features players primarily ages 13 to 17.
And the Fred Sasakamoose Chief Thunderstick National Hockey Championship is staged each year in Saskatoon. The majority of the players at this tourney are adults, over the age of 20.
The new national event would be for those who are mostly too old to take part in the NAHC and a bit too young for the adult tourney, which is often simply called “The Freddy”.
Hockey Indigenous reps sent out a survey this past fall asking potential players and supporters where they would like to see the inaugural tournament.
Friday, who lives with Linklater in Timmins, Ont., had previously indicated he would prefer to have the first event in his home province.
Both Friday and Linklater are members of First Nations in northern Ontario. Friday is from Kashechewan First Nation while Linklater is from Taykwa Tagamou First Nation.
“The survey really helped us,” Friday said. “A lot of people thought Toronto would be an ideal location.”
Friday said other cities that were considered were Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Halifax.
Friday believes there will be significant interest in the 2025 tourney. The announcement of the tournament location and dates received almost 160,000 views on Hockey Indigenous’ social media platforms.
“Just announcing the event was big news,” Friday said. “We’re very confident this will be a very successful hockey event.”
Though the 2025 tourney will be in Toronto, Friday said what rink(s) will be used for the event has yet to be decided.
Besides having its own board of directors, Hockey Indigenous has also established an advisory committee for the 2025 tournament.
Committee members had to decide what format the tournament would have. One thought was whether the event should have players representing their own First Nation or community.
But another option was chosen.
“We are looking at a provincial/territorial style,” Friday said. “That’s the direction as of right now.”
As a result, Friday is hoping a total of 26 teams will compete at next year’s event. That would be one female and one male club from each of the 10 provinces and three territories.
That’s why Hockey Indigenous has put out a call for volunteer regional scouting coordinators.
The goal is to secure 13 volunteers – one for each province and territory – whose duties would include compiling and maintaining a database of Indigenous players in their region.
Those seeking a scouting position can send their information, including any experience, to email@example.com. The deadline to submit an application is Jan. 25.
Friday said numerous people have already expressed interest in the scouting positions.
“There’s been a significant amount of interest in that,” he said.
Plenty of other work still needs to be done.
For starters, Friday said Hockey Indigenous will soon meet with officials from the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC), the national governing body of Indigenous athletics in Canada. The goal is to get the ASC on board with the event, which in turn could potentially lead to the approval of the various provincial and territorial sports organizations as well.
Friday said the breakdown of costs to run the national event will also be determined at a tournament committee soon.
He’s confident companies will sign up for sponsorship packages for the event.
“We’re still hoping to meet with a couple of organizations,” he added.
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