Back in town: CREE hockey tournament returns to Val-d’Or

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Cree hockey returned to Val-d’Or April 7-10 as over 1,700 young players and their families descended on the city for the 24th annual Cree Minor Hockey Tournament, presented by Cree Regional Events and Entertainment.

The event marked the first major Cree sporting event to take place in Val-d’Or since the 2015 Cree Senior Hockey & Broomball Tournament was cancelled late last year; a casualty of a Cree Nation Government boycott of the city following reports of abuse of Indigenous women at the hands of officers from the local Sûreté du Québec police detachment.

This year’s edition of the tournament featured 117 teams, with young girls and boys battling for supremacy in 14 competitive and recreational categories, ranging from Beginners to Midget, making it one of the largest minor hockey tourneys in Quebec.

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“Everyone has been looking forward to this event,” said Raymond Shanoush, president of the Eeyou Istchee Sports & Recreation Association. “There were a few kids as young as three years old who played, to our amazement, joining players all the way up to 17 years old.”

While the primary objective of organizers has been to stage a tournament focused on children and sport, it has not been easy to ignore the events of last fall that led to the cancellation of the Senior tournament.

“After working with city officials, the Cree Nation Government made a political decision to lift the boycott, which allowed us to move forward,” said Shanoush. “But there were precautions taken to ensure safety, and make sure everything went as planned. And overall, it really went well.”

The most significant change to this year’s tournament was its sole focus on hockey.

In previous years, the tournament presented both hockey and broomball, but with a growing number of youngsters participating in both sports, plans are now in the works to stage a minor broomball tournament in Val-d’Or in October.

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According to Shanoush, a significant percentage of girls are now playing both hockey and broomball, while broomball has rapidly grown in popularity among boys.

“We wanted to accommodate the girls who play hockey, and at the same time introduce a new sport to the boys,” said Shanoush. “The tournament rules say you can only play one sport, which is why we split it, so the girls can play hockey at this event, and we can get as many participants enjoying both sports.”

This year’s tournament also featured the first Cree referee, with Byron Jonah of Waskaganish taking to the ice to work several games. A veteran of previous tournaments as a player, Jonah has worked as an official with the James Bay Minor Hockey League, and received the green light from the Val-d’Or Hockey Referees Association shortly before the start of the event.

“We have referees working as many as eight or nine games per day, and that is one of the reasons we put a limit on the number of teams,” said Shanoush. “More and more, referees are committed to just being referees, instead of trying to be both a hockey player and referee. Byron has made that commitment, and is probably going to move on to referee at higher levels next year.”

Then Shanoush added, “This is something that we have been pushing, to develop referees for our own events, but also for the regional championships.”

In tournament action, the Lac-Simon Warriors dominated the Chisasibi Beavers in the Atom Competitive final, claiming the championship banner with an 8-1 victory, while the Oujé Wolves topped the Lac-Simon Hawks 4-3 in the Atom Recreational final.

The girls from Oujé ran the table, going undefeated in both prelim and playoff action to capture the Bantam Girls crown, while the Mistissini Beavers overcame a 4-2 loss to the Chisasibi Blackhawks to go undefeated in their next five contests en route to a victory in the Bantam Competitive category.

Rapid Lake surrendered only three goals in four victories to earn a berth in the Bantam Recreational Final, where they needed a pair of late goals to eke out a 4-3 win over Waswanipi.

Chisasibi was well represented in the Novice Competitive category by the Lil’ Hunters, who outscored opponents by a stunning 27-1 margin in four tournament contests to take home the tournament banner.

Nigel Napash proved to be a huge difference-maker for the Lil’ Hunters, tallying 11 goals to join Nathaniel Coon Come as the leading goal scorers at this year’s event.

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Coon Come powered Oujé to an undefeated record in Novice Recreational, but the Wolves needed to overcome a pair of one-goal deficits to post a 6-5 victory over Kitcisakik in the category final.

In PeeWee Girls action, Lac-Simon stumbled into the playoff round following a stunning 6-0 loss to Chisasibi, but showed their mettle in their final matchup with Mistissini, overcoming a 4-2 first-period deficit to claim a 6-5 overtime victory.

The Waskaganish Wings got better as the tournament progressed, overcoming an opening-game loss to the Mistissini Beavers to post four straight wins, including a 7-2 victory over Whapmagoostui in the PeeWee Competitive final, while Pikogan Maikan capped a perfect tournament run by getting past Wemindji 5-4 in overtime to take home PeeWee Recreational honours.


After winning their first three games, Lac-Simon looked poised to capture the Midget Recreation title, but the Waskaganish Jr. Wings had other plans, knocking off Lac-Simon 7-3 to earn this year’s championship banner, while Wemindji and Whapmagoostui battled in the Midget Competitive final with Wemindji taking top honours.

With this year’s Cree Minor Hockey Tournament now in the books, attention will turn to upcoming summer events, including the Minor Softball and Fastball Tournament at the end of July, followed by the Senior Fastball Tournament in September.

Following the first-ever Broomball Tournament in October, hockey fans can look forward to the return of one of the year’s biggest events, the Cree Senior Hockey Tournament, this December in Val-d’Or.

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