Chisasibi Beavers end impressive season with run to Inter-regionals final

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Young Cree hockey players took centre stage last month as the Chisasibi Beavers Atom A squad made the long trip to Laval to compete in the 2018 Quebec Inter-regional championship tournament.

Comprised of many of the best 9- and 10-year-old hockey players in Eeyou Istchee, the Beavers enjoyed a dream season that started with a perfect 7-0 run in James Bay Minor Hockey League action, during which they outgunned opponents by an impressive 42-21 margin.

That success set the stage for the Beavers’ impressive performance at the Coupe Créations Dynamiques in mid-March, which started with a crushing 13-2 win over Rouyn-Noranda, and climaxed with an equally impressive 9-0 beating of Amos in the tournament final, earning the club a berth in the 2018 Inter-regionals.

While many hockey observers had tempered expectations of what the Beavers could achieve this season, the club’s dominance came as no surprise to coach Simeon Kitty.

“This could be one of the best teams I have ever coached,” said Kitty in conversation with the Nation.

With 20 years behind the bench of minor and senior hockey teams, Kitty has helped many young Cree players develop their skills on the ice, and has been the architect of multiple runs to the Interregional finals. That experience, along with the hard work of assistant coaches James Lameboy and Kyle Sam, has been key to the Beavers’ strong play this season.

After making the long journey from Chisasibi to Laval, the Beavers had little time to rest before opening their Inter-regionals schedule against the Outaouais Jets on April 5. The long ride had no apparent effect of Kitty’s young charges as they stormed to a 9-2 rout of the Jets.

The Beavers also flaunted their finely tuned defense in a pair of subsequent shutout wins, starting with a 5-0 blanking of the Bécancour Riverains, and followed by a 6-0 thrashing of the Deux-Montagnes Panthers that earned the squad a berth in the tournament semi-final.

The club took care of business with a 3-1 victory over the Estrie Voltigeurs in that final four matchup, but had little left in the tank for the final, falling to the Napierville Mustangs by 6-1 score.

“The kids were tired by the time they reached the final. They had played a lot of hockey, and we let them spend a lot of time in the swimming pool at the hotel in Laval,” Kitty said with a laugh.

But there was no disappointment among the young Beavers as their championship dream came to an end.

“Kids need to be kids, and have fun, and we did that this season,” said Kitty. “More importantly, a lot of credit has to be given to the parents and families of these kids, who worked so hard to build a team, and made a lot of sacrifices. Teams like this cannot be successful unless the parents are committed to supporting them.”

While the Beavers made their march to the Interregional finals, the rest of the Cree hockey world converged on Val-d’Or for the 26th Annual Cree Minor Hockey Tournament.

This year’s edition of the tournament featured 104 teams playing in 14 categories, ranging from Pre Novice to Midget Girls and Midget Hockey Competitive.

The Manawan Kings stumbled out of the gate with a 5-4 loss to Waskaganish before rebounding with five straight victories, capped by a 4-3 win over the Wemindji Paint Hills to claim the Midget Hockey Competitive banner.

A pair of Manawan skaters, Jerrycko Flamand and Graham Moar, led all Midget Competitive scorers with eight and seven points, respectively. Wemindji’s Felix Stephen and Mathias Weische of Waskaganish, who each tallied six points at this year’s tournament, closely followed.

In Midget Girls action, Whapmagoostui led the way in preliminary play with three straight victories, including a dominating 13-1 win over Mistissini, but had nothing left in the tank in their final matchup with Kitigan Zibi, which romped to a 7-0 victory to take home the championship banner.

Waswanipi and Rapid Lake both opened Bantam Hockey Competitive action with two victories each, but neither club could handle Waskaganish in the knockout round, as they powered to a 6-5 win over Rapid Lake, followed by a narrow 4-3 edging of Waswanipi to emerge as Bantam champions.

Waskaganish also impressed in Pee Wee Hockey Competitive, powering to four straight wins to earn a berth in the category final, but once again a squad from outside Eeyou Istchee emerged triumphant, with the Lac Simon Warriors eliminating Waskaganish by a slim 5-4 margin before falling to the Moose Factory Scrappers by a 4-3 tally in the final.

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