More than 80 hockey and broomball teams compete at Val-d’Or tournament

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An annual tradition was renewed the first weekend of December as Cree hockey players and fans from across Eeyou Istchee converged on Val-d’Or for the 38th CREE Senior Hockey and Broomball Tournament.

This year’s event was as big as ever, featuring over 80 teams competing across eight categories, including Women’s Hockey and two categories dedicated to Women’s Broomball. The Cree clearly love their hockey, and the annual tournament has evolved into a major event on the Eeyou Istchee social calendar.

“As great as the hockey is, the social aspect is what I enjoy most,” Charles Hester told the Nation. “It’s a social event that brings together Indigenous people from all across the province. Regardless of the score, people walk away from the tournament with smiles on their faces.”

As Director of Sports and Recreation in Waskaganish, Hester has played a long-time role in organizing sports events in his home community, and has a deep understanding of what it takes to organize a massive event like the CREE Senior Tournament.

“It takes a lot to pull off this tournament,” Hester noted, adding that a full-time coordinator position will be soon be necessary to ensure its continuing success.

“Trying to get a schedule that works for everyone is the hardest part – every year we have to amend the schedule 10-12 times,” he explained. “You have to have a lot of patience but once the games start it’s pretty easy. Strap in and enjoy the ride.”

And what a ride it was.

Class A Hockey was again the highlight of this year’s tournament, with 14 teams competing for the coveted CREE Senior Tournament championship banner. The Waswanipi Chiefs emerged as a dominant force, outscoring opponents by a 16-6 margin while going undefeated in five preliminary games.

Powered by Vern Cooper, who led all scorers with seven goals and two assists, the Chiefs remained perfect in the playoffs, knocking off the Waskaganish Wings by a 3-1 score in the semi-final, before completing their perfect run to glory with a 3-0 blanking of the Wemindji Wolves in the final.

The Wings had no reason to hang their heads following their loss in the Class A semi-final. Waskaganish struggled with adversity early in the tourney, dropping heartbreaking decisions to Kitigan Zibi and Mistissini Trappers in their first two contests.

But with Brandon Wadden leading the way with four goals and two assists, the Wings quickly rebounded to hand the Whapmagoostui Tomahawks a 7-0 thrashing, and followed up with hard-fought victories over the Lac Simon Beavers and Chisasibi Hunters to punch their ticket to the final.

Over in Women’s Hockey action, a high-powered Mistissini Mustangs squad put on an impressive performance during their march toward a championship banner.

A 5-1 tournament-opening victory over the Kitigan Zibi Wheels set the tone for what would be an overwhelming offensive performance by the Mustangs, who outscored opponents by a 35-7 margin in five contests, capped with a 4-1 win in a return engagement against the Wheels in the category final.

Courtney Neeposh led all goal scorers with five markers and shared her perch atop the stats with teammate Wabaguin Longchap, and Dana Morrison of the Wemindji Lady Wolves, all with six points.

The Morrisons made it a family affair as older sister Sara, a former member of the University of Ottawa Gee Gees, closely trailed the scoring leaders with four goals and an assist. Despite the Morrison sisters’ heroics, the Lady Wolves were forced to bow out in the semi-final with a 3-1 loss to the Wheels.

The youngsters were not the only players to get in on the action. Veteran players were well represented by seven teams competing in the Old Timers Hockey category.

Again, it was a squad from Waskaganish that overcame an early loss to make noise later in the tourney. The Waskaganish Exwings fell 5-4 to Lac Simon NB in their first tournament outing, but found their stride in an 11-1 whupping of the Whapmagoostui Whalers.

The Exwings continued their dominating play in an 8-3 victory over the Kashechewan Eagles to earn a berth in the semi-final, where they exacted revenge over Lac Simon for their earlier loss with a 5-4 win, and had no trouble getting past the Chisasibi Relics in the final, tallying a lopsided 7-0 victory to claim this year’s title.

Despite their high-scoring performances, there were no Exwings at the top of the player stats in this year’s tournament. A pair of Relics led the way in scoring, with Isaac Swallow potting four goals and six assists, just ahead of Adrian Chiskamish, who racked up nine points.

In Women’s Competitive Broomball, a pair of perennial contenders faced off in the final, with the Wemindji IceStars edging the rival Waskaganish Starlites by a 1-0 score to close out a tournament that featured several low-scoring contests.

Six of the seven contests played in the quarter-final, semi-final, and final featured two or fewer goals, and just two players amassed over three points in the tournament, with Moreen Laloche of the Kitcisakik Pakigimon and Ryanne Sam of the Chisasibi North Stars finishing the tourney with four points each.

Wemindji came just short of a sweep in women’s broomball action, with the Wemindji Crees falling 3-1 to the Lac Simon Lakers in the final.

The Mistissini Chummys added to their championship banner collection with a shutout victory over the Waswanipi Firehawks in Class B1 Hockey action, while the Waswanipi Grand Chiefs raised the Class B2 Hockey championship banner by posting a 6-4 victory over the high-powered Waskaganish Raiders.

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