A Cree hockey tradition returns to Val-d’Or

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An annual rite of winter for the Cree Nation was revived earlier this month as the C.R.E.E. Senior Hockey and Broomball Tournament returned to Val-d’Or following a one-year absence.

Last year marked the first time in three decades that the tournament failed to take place, as the event was cancelled as a result of the Cree Nation Government boycott of the city in the wake of published reports of abuse of Indigenous woman by members of the local detachment of the Sûreté du Québec.

The one-year hiatus didn’t dampen the enthusiasm surrounding this important First Nations event.

Over 1000 players, accompanied by family members, descended on Val-d’Or December 1-4 for the 36th edition of the tournament, while live web streaming of the action was enjoyed by an estimated 40,000 viewers.

Over 70 teams battled for coveted championship banners in seven divisions, including Women’s Recreational Broomball, Women’s Competitive Broomball, Women’s Hockey, Old Timers Hockey 40+, Class B2 Hockey, Class B1 Hockey, and the main event, Class A Hockey.

The Waswanipi Chiefs recovered from a tournament-opening 3-2 loss to the Waskaganish Wings to emerge as this year’s Class A Hockey champions.

Powered by leading scoring Vern Cooper, the Chiefs subsequently allowed only two goals in three straight wins to capture first place in preliminary action.

Waswanipi dominated in the playoff round, handing Pessamit Montagnais a 4-1 loss before clinching this year’s championship with a 4-0 shutout victory over the Wemindji Wolves.

Vern Cooper displayed the skills that convinced the Plymouth Whalers to select him in the first round of the 2006 OHL Priority Draft, tallying a pair of goals and four assists to take home Top Scorer honours.

Alex Cooper made this year’s victory a family affair by earning the MVP award, while a pair of shutout performances resulted in Chiefs backstop Francois Koczynuski getting the nod as Best Goalie.

With three points in four games, along with three penalty minutes, Wemindji’s Dave Lazarus was named Best Forward in Class A Hockey, joining teammate Tyler Shanush, who picked up the award for Best Defense.

Waswanipi ChiefsWemindji IceStars

While the men from Wemindji fell short in their quest for this year’s Class A Hockey championship banner, the Wemindji Lady Wolves got the job done in the Women’s Hockey category.

After splitting their first two games, posting a 5-2 win over the Oujé Lady Hawks and a 4-1 loss to the Mistissini Mustangs, the Lady Wolves put on a show in their preliminary date with Team Nunavik, dominating in an 11-1 win.

Nunavik grabbed an early 1-0 lead in that contest, but the rest of the game belonged to Wemindji’s Moreen Laloche.

The 20-year-old put on a clinic, scoring eight straight goals in the Lady Wolves’ victory, and earned both MVP and Top Scorer honours while leading Wemindji to the Women’s Hockey crown.

Wemindji’s Dana Morrison, who previously starred for the SUNY Canton Kangaroos of the NCAA, added to her trophy case with Best Defense honours, while a pair of Mistissini Mustang teammates, Wabby Longchap and Wabaguin Coonishish, were named Best Forward and Best Goalie, respectively.

The Wemindji ladies also proved to be tops in Women’s Competitive Broomball. The IceStars outscored opponents by an 18-0 margin over seven games en route to a gold medal victory.

A pair of IceStars players earned individual awards, including Elizabeth Shash, whose perfect performance between the pipes garnered her Top Goalie and MVP honours, while teammate Brittany Visitor was named Top Forward.

Daisy Ottereyes of the Waswanipi Eagles potted four goals and three assists to claim the award as Top Scorer, while teammate Savannah Jolly was selected as the winner of the tournament’s Best Defense award.

Austin Cheezo of the Waswanipi UnderdawgsVal-d'Or tournament Ladies hockey

There was no shortage of goal production when the Old Timers hit the ice at this year’s tournament.

The Waskaganish Ex-Wings set the tone in their tournament opener, scoring seven third-period goals en route to a 9-4 win over the Washaw Sibi Kings.

The Ex-Wings followed up with another offensive explosion, handing the Lac Simon Old Bucks a 9-2 beating, but received a taste of their own medicine in a 9-7 loss to the Wemindji 69ers.

But the boys from Waskaganish would eventually have their revenge, eking out a 5-4 win over the 69ers in the category final to claim the Old Timers Hockey 40+ championship banner.

Ross Miniquaken of the 69ers led the way with 10 points, edging out six Ex-Wings shooters in the race for Top Scorer, while Waskaganish netminder Dave Peace emerged as Top Goalie, and fellow Ex-Wing Donald Namagoose was named MVP.

Val-d'Or Oldtimers hockey

Another championship banner can be raised at the Rupert River Sports Complex after the Waskaganish Raiders claimed victory in Class B2 Hockey.

The Raiders knocked off the Waswanipi Grand Chiefs 8-5 in the category final, powered by MVP Ryan Weistche and Top Goalie Kurtis Cheezo.

Kurt Hester ran away with the Top Scorer award after finding the back of the net 10 times, and adding five assists while leading the Waskaganish Dawgs to a semi-final appearance at this year’s tourney.

The Mistissini Chummys added to their championship banner collection with a 9-2 rout of Pikogan Makian in the Class B1 Hockey final.

Stanley Kistabish represented Pikogan as the recipient of Class B1 Best Defense award, and the Nemaska Axemen’s Sammy Matches picked up the Top Scorer award with a five-point performance.

But otherwise, it was all Chummys, with Max Lapointe winning the award for tournament MVP and Best Forward, while former NCAA women’s hockey netminder Shayna Dominique outplayed the men between the pipes, picking up the prize as Best Goalie.

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