MISSISSAUGA – “The lil NHL tournament is the best thing about March break,” said former Boston Bruins star Stan Jonathan from Six Nations, who was on hand once again this year to help the organizers with the trophy and medallion ceremonies.
Although he himself missed the creation of the lil NHL as a kid growing up, he has had several members of his family who have played, now including grandchildren.
“A lot of parents don’t have the money to go to Florida or take an extended holiday, but this has become a holiday for First Nations families over the years. I never got a chance to play, I was playing Jr. in Peterborough so I didn’t get into it. This year there are 178 teams here and I have four family members playing, three boys and one girl, and she is happy to get to play on an all girls team, too.”
Jonathan is hoping to see more Six Nations girls playing hockey on all girl teams at the Bantam Midget age, especially following the Wild’s Gold Medal showing this year.
“There is no other place you can run this that I know of,” said Jonathan. “Most reserves and communities are so small so you have to hold it in a city with enough facilities and lodging. Even if they have the arenas around, they do not have the accommodations available for parents and grandparents plus the teams.”
The tournament is for all levels of the game, and is broken down into house league and travel teams levels, who each get to play at their own level.
“(Former NHL’er) Reggie Leach is here this year, too, for the Native kids, along with myself, and we are going to try and get to some of the Midget games for the older kids. We want to encourage them to continue playing hockey after minor and we want to give them support and encouragement,” says Jonathan.
Leach and Jonathan talked to some of the older kids about staying away from drugs and alcohol, not getting in with the wrong people and pursuing hockey instead.
“These kids can play hockey and there is no reason why we don’t have a few more kids using their talent to go on and play Junior. A lot of these kids will take themselves down a wrong road when they choose the wrong friends. Everybody here loves the game.”
Jonathan points out the fact that the Dreamcatcher Foundation has made participation possible for smaller, more distant reserves especially over the last three years of their involvement. This year they have paid the $550 entre-fee for several teams to make it possible to come.
“We are fortunate at Six Nations for having a larger reserve and more kids to choose from, and our Minor Hockey System is one of the top around for Native communities,” Jonathan recognizes. “But some of these smaller more remote reserves just want to come down here and have fun.”
The system is build in such a way that they find the most appropriate level in a C or D division if they get beat a couple of times and still get to play for a championship.
“Everybody goes home with something,” he says. “I’ve watched these kids over the past few years that my grandsons have played in it and you can see the improvement in these kids every year. That’s nice to see.”