A Quebec-based team was able to prevent another sweep at this year's National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC).
The Quebec side, called Eastern Door and the North (EDN) captured the girls division at the Canadian tournament, which was staged May 7-12 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. EDN edged Saskatchewan 3-2 in the girls' gold-medal game.
The Saskatchewan boys' side won its division, downing Alberta 5-1 in its championship match. This marked the fifth straight year Saskatchewan has taken top honors in the boys' grouping.
Host Saskatchewan won both the boys' and girls' divisions at the 2011 NAHC, which were also staged in Saskatoon. As for this year's national tournament, it featured eight female and eight male squads.
The EDN girls' side had won the silver medal a year ago. But Patrice Dominique, who was an assistant coach with that club and was promoted to head coach this year, was somewhat surprised to see his charges celebrating with gold medals this time around.
"I had a young team," Dominique said, adding his roster included eight returnees from last year's squad. "And we had four good girls that couldn't play because of their schooling."
Dominique's team got off to a rather slow start at this year's event. EDN was downed 7-1 by Alberta in its opening round-robin match. Dominique, an Innu from Mistissini, Quebec, was not too concerned with that result.
"After that we had a talk with the girls and told them to follow the game plan we wanted them to have," he said.
That message was apparently adhered to as EDN did not lose another contest in the tournament. EDN blanked the Northwest Territories 9-0 and then downed Ontario 7-2 in their other round-robin matches.
EDN kicked off its playoff schedule with a 7-1 triumph over British Columbia in its quarter-final game. And Dominique's club avenged its opening loss by doubling Alberta 4-2 in its semi-final contest.
Though Saskatchewan had home-ice advantage going for them, Dominique said some of his veterans were rather keen to square off against the hosts in the gold-medal game. Saskatchewan defeated EDN 7-3 in the 2011 tournament final.
"Some of them wanted to play Saskatchewan," Dominique said of his veteran players. "They said that is going to be our revenge game."
EDN's 17-player roster included players with Innu, Inuit, Cree, Mohawk and Algonquin ancestry. As for the Saskatchewan boys' side, it was able to complete its Drive For Five.
"Each one is special in its own way," Courage Bear, an assistant coach with the team said of Saskatchewan's five consecutive NAHC titles. "This was one was great because we were able to complete our Drive For Five. That was our goal. Not that it's not our goal every year to win it."
Bear said there's a few simple reasons why the Saskatchewan boys' side has enjoyed so much success in recent years.
"We have pretty good players," he said. "We have more and more kids playing at a high level. We've built the program (to a point) where they care and they want to be a part of it."
The Saskatchewan boys' team won all six of its matches at this year's nationals. The club registered round-robin victories over Team Atlantic, Manitoba and British Columbia. The squad then blanked the Northwest Territories 8-0 in its quarter-final match. And it earned a berth into the gold-medal game by defeating Manitoba 5-3 in their semi-final contest. Manitoba ended up winning the bronze medal in the boys' division. Ontario took home the bronze in girls' action.
The boys' division was restricted to midget-aged players (16- and 17-year-olds). The female category featured midget and bantam (14-15) players. The girls' teams were also allowed to carry a maximum of four overage players, who were either 18 or 19.