Players, fans, families and friends gathered in Williams Lake for the weekend for another memorable Cariboo Canucks All Native Hockey Tournament.
The seventh annual event held at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex, players spread across 20 teams and four divisions battled it out for cash, bragging rights and prizes, while fans packed the seats for an exciting weekend of hockey.
Organizer Cecil Grinder, along with upwards of 15 volunteers, worked tirelessly prior, and during the weekend, setting the stage for what many of the fans said they treat as an annual Christmas get together.
“Everybody always has a good time,” Grinder told the Tribune. “We’ve got great fans, there are lots of kids here, and I think we help give Williams Lake’s economy a little poke. It’s just a great event we have here each year for our local people and visitors from out of town.”
On the ice teams competed in four divisions: competitive, masters, women’s and recreational.
The competitive division final, meanwhile, couldn’t have been a more fitting way to end the weekend as the Williams Lake Wolverines, who entered the CCANHT as a team for the first time this year, needed a shootout to squeak past the visiting Coast Salish Serpents, 5-4, in the championship Sunday afternoon.
Wilfred Robbins and Donovan Nicholas scored in the shootout for the Wolverines, while goaltender Willie Sellars stopped the Serpents’ third and final attempt to extend the second extra frame even longer and, ultimately help win the title.
Wolverines defenceman Drew Rose, who was a stalwart on the Wolverines’ blueline, said it was a hard-fought battle, and a great way to end the tournament.
“We were ahead there for a bit, then we gave them a bit of momentum and got into a little penalty trouble but the boys fought back and we dug deep,” Rose said.
Robbins, who notched two big goals during regulation, and another in the shootout, said it was an exciting game for players and fans.
“That’s how a final should be,” Robbins said. “Wire to wire, and went to the shootout. It was a good final, and it was good for the crowd.”
On the tournament as a whole, Robbins said Grinder does a fantastic job.
“It’s always good,” Robbins said. “Cecil has a lot of support and it’s good to see all our people come here to watch us. That’s what it’s about.”
Rose echoed Robbins’ sentiments.
“It’s all about bringing everybody together, especially around the holidays, and everybody’s coming back [to visit],” Rose said. “It’s good to come back, see familiar faces, play with your friends and your family, and for our Indigenous peoples it’s a happy time for us and it’s always good to have an opportunity like that.
“These guys are role models for everybody around here, especially for the young kids, to have something to look forward to in terms of tournaments here. It’s a good, positive thing for our people.”
All-stars in the competitive division were Blake Tarbell (best defense, Coast Salish Serpents), Rose (best defense, Wolverines), Tyler Billy (best forward, Cariboo Canucks), Francis Johnson (best forward, Wolverines), Jimmy Smith (best forward, Coast Salish Serpents) and Willie Sellars (best goaltender, Wolverines).
In the women’s division final the Cariboo Stars built on an early 2-0 lead to eventually upend the Interior Storm 4-1 in the championship.
Picking up all-star nods were Katy Thorn (best defense, Interior Storm), Ruthie Jackson (best defense, Cariboo Stars), Teneal Schick (best forward, Interior Storm), Faith Myers (best forward, Cariboo Stars), Jazzy Guichon (best forward, Her-ricanes) and Tamara William (best goalie, Cariboo Stars).
The masters championship saw two game clubs, the Williams Lake Longhorns and the Sugar Cane Hurricanes, square off in an 8-2 Hurricanes victory.
Ted Sam, a longtime Longhorns player from Anaham, said the tournament was great fun and noted he hasn’t missed one in 20 years.
“It brings everybody out, it brings all the nations together,” Sam said. “This is where you see everybody. I look forward to it once a year, and it sure makes all the nations Christmases to get everybody together.”
The recreational division final pitted the Anaham Athabaskans versus the U.N.N. Bears in an extremely close game.
When the dust settled, it was the Athabaskans edging the Bears, 2-1.
All-stars in the recreational division were Henley Dick (best defense, Athabaskans), Monty Gottfriedson (best defense, Cyroties), Brendan Harry (best forward, Athabaskans), Stephen Jensen (best forward, U.N.N. Bears), Logan Hutchinson (best forward, U.N.N. Bears) and Cody Call (best goaltender, Anaham Athabaskans).