Thirty-two teams from throughout the province converged at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex during the weekend for the Eighth Annual Cariboo Canucks Aboriginal Hockey Tournament.
In all, 22 adult teams and 10 youth teams featuring upwards of 300 players competed in multiple divisions beginning Friday and wrapping up Sunday evening in Williams Lake.
Tournament organizer Cecil Grinder said the beloved tournament is a way to bring not just the community of Williams Lake and its surrounding areas together, but to also include people from the rest of the province.
“This was the biggest one we’ve had yet,” Grinder said of the tournament. “The youth just loved it, and for the Elders and women’s divisions — they were allowed to have non-native players on their teams — when you see these kinds of things happening like them inviting non-native players to play on their teams it brings communities together, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
“If we can get more people living in harmony with one another we are better off. That’s what it’s all about.”
Grinder said the tournament ran smoothly, and thanked all of the volunteers who helped make the weekend a success.
“Everything fell into place thanks to all the help we had,” he said. “Without the volunteers we can’t do it. My wife and I we were getting here at 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday and leaving at 11 p.m. It’s tiring but it’s well worth it.”
Beginning in the youth divisions, it was the Williams Lake Ice Devils bringing home first place in the youth 10-12 division, while the Western Longhorns took the prize in the youth 7-9 category.
On the recreational side of things the division featured extremely competitive games throughout the weekend, with the local team, Just Cousins, bringing home the championship in a victory over Evil Empire (Dog Creek).
Tournament all-stars in the recreational division were Brady Fuller (Just Cousins), Raeyden Beauchamp (Xeni All Stars), Dominic Hodges (Just Cousins) and Lawrence Elkins Jr. (UNN Bears), Taylor Hemmond (Evil Empire) and goaltender Mike Garara (Evil Empire).
The women’s division final saw the Interior Storm lay a hammering on the visiting Kamloops side in the championship, followed by Julia Flinton (Interior Storm), Trishanna Dan (Native Daughters – Canim Lake), Katy Thorn (Kamloops), Brooke Call (Cariboo Stars), Zena Chelsea (Interior Storm) and goaltender Raylea Garland (Interior Storm) collecting all-star awards.
In the masters division, several late players were recognized by the tournament committee during the opening ceremonies and, longtime player Bruce Mack of Williams Lake was recognized by a team entered in the division in his honour.
“I want to thank Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Willie Sellars for the welcome at our opening ceremonies and Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair and Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse for speaking about those players who have passed,” Grinder said.
“Team Bruce Mack was made when one team pulled out. This was to recognize him for all the deeds he did for our First Nations communities in the area. He also mentored a lot of us when we were going through hard times … he taught us a lot about life, and we will always remember him for who he was.”
Mack, Dave Vilac, Dale King, Allen Alphonse, Jesse Bowe and Richard Christopher Sr. — all past players — were honoured at the tournament.
Team Bruce Mack, while making it to the championship in the master’s division, fell to a tough Williams Lake Longhorns squad with just 30 seconds remaining in overtime in what was an entertaining final.
“And in the elders division for 55+ — they don’t get a chance to skate at all, so this division was made for them to participate in our event,” Grinder said.
Masters all-stars were Earl Call (Team Bruce Mack), Greg Pigeon (Williams Lake Longhorns), Eric Hall (Sugar Cane Hurricanes), Vince Kozuki (Williams Lake Longhorns), Mike Grace (Team Bruce Mack) and Ryan Denault (Williams Lake Longhorns).
Lastly, in the competitive division, a little bit of controversy made things interesting Sunday afternoon during quarterfinal semifinal and championship play.
After defeating the Grizzles (Merritt) to book their ticket in the championship, the Vancouver Serpents were carded for using an illegal player. As a result, the Grizzlies advanced to the championship and would face the winner of the Cariboo Canucks and the Vancouver Serpents in the semifinal.
There, however, a berth in the final wasn’t in the cards for the hometown squad as the Serpents went on to advance, before falling to the Grizzlies in the championship.
Competitive division all-stars are as follows: Blake Tarbell (Vancouver Serpents), Jamie Smith (Vancouver Serpents), Francis Johnson (Cariboo Canucks), Darren Alexander (Grizzlies), Ryan Ignace (Kelmuc Rebels) and Matt Brenner (Grizzlies).
At the tournament, Grinder also thanked his daughter, Tamara William, for inspiring him to start the tournament eight years ago when he said he’d let his passion and love of hockey slip away.
“She’s the one who suggested it and got me back into it, and I’m extremely grateful for that,” he said.
He also added he would like to thank the city for allowing the use of the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex during the weekend.
“It was a good event,” he said. “You see these types of things happening in the city with all these people here and it just impresses you.”