Arctic Bay next Nunavut community to receive new hockey gear
“Hockey’s a game of fun, and sometimes you tend to lose that"
Ontario Hockey League defenceman Alex Gudbranson, 19, stands out in a crowd at the Iqaluit airport.
Waiting for a connecting flight, the six-foot Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds grinder stands up straight with shoulders double the breadth and width of most people.
But it’s not just how he looks. Gudbranson might be the most excited person in the terminal — he’ll be helping distribute brand new hockey gear to youth in Arctic Bay this week.
“First of all, it’s giving back. It’s bringing hockey equipment up to kids who can’t get the game rolling everywhere,” Gudbranson said.
The give-away is a part of Project North — a not-for-profit organization that has donated batches of hockey equipment worth $25,000 to 15 different northern communities since 2009, to communities in the North, supported by the National Hockey League’s Player Association’s Goals and Dreams fund.
The group also raises money through a campaign called Gear Up, where people can donate money for hockey sticks, shoulder pads, gloves, helmets and goalie gear, or a whole bag of equipment, on their website.
“This is marking a really important year for Project North,” said Michelle Valberg, founder of the project.
“We’re going into our fifth year, and we’re going to have delivered over $500,000 worth of hockey equipment,” Valberg said.
Valberg said she plans on doubling that tally over the next five years.
Alex Gudbranson’s brother Erik, who plays for the Florida Panthers in the NHL, was supposed to join the Project North contingent to Arctic Bay but Erik got a call from Team Canada to play at the World Championship in Minsk, Belarus, alongside NHL stars such as Nazem Kadri and Brayden Schenn.
“He said it’s too bad the timing couldn’t be different,” said Donna Gudbranson, Erik and Alex’s mother, who’s accompanying him on the trip.
The hamlet of Arctic Bay, with a population of about 700, has been clearing away a section of ice just outside the community where the hockey equipment, which includes everything from shoulder pads to skates, will be divvied up through a draw.
It’s also where Gudbranson, and coaches who have joined them, will practice and play shinny with the youth.
Gudbranson said he plans on teaching kids just to have fun on the ice.
“Hockey’s a game of fun, and sometimes you tend to lose that. And going up to Arctic Bay, you play on the frozen lake, and you get out there and have a good time,” he said.
Most of the Project North team paid their own way to fly to Arctic Bay, Valberg said, with a discount from First Air. The airline also flew the hockey equipment up to the community for free.
But there’s an addition to the usual Project North program this time — Valberg will be holding a photography workshop with Arctic Bay resident Clare Kines.
A veteran photographer, Valberg’s images have been published in magazines such as National Geographic.
It’s a massive opportunity for photographers in Arctic Bay, Kines said — Kines, a freelance photographer himself and contributor to Nunatsiaq News, said there’s a culture of photography in the community.
“It’s nice. It’s something the people are interested in. We have lots of people that continually push each other,” Kines told Nunatsiaq News on the phone from Arctic Bay.
Valberg, who is also a Nikon ambassador, is bringing up 18 Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot cameras that she’ll be giving away to those participating in the workshops.
And 11 students will have the opportunity to learn from Valberg and Kines through the workshops, as well as a few other interested shooters in town.
The whole Project North team is in Arctic Bay until May 11. There will also be cultural events such as throat singing and iglu building.