Nunavut Stars hockey camp puts kids to the test
“This is a doorway for them towards volunteering and leading”
When former National Hockey League player Brad May first played against the notorious tough-guy, Derek Boogaard, he remembers lots of hits, but none of them his — he lost most of their notoriously fierce encounters.
From that moment on, May was determined to do everything he possibly could to be better, faster, and stronger than Boogaard — doing one more lift at the gym everyday, and running that extra mile whenever he could.
Months later, when the weights dropped and pucks were back on the ice, the satisfaction couldn’t have been greater when he got the better of Boogaard, who recently committed suicide, a death many blame on the amount of blunt trauma to the head he received while playing hockey.
May says he became a better player for trying to improve his own game.
May, a Stanley Cup champion and veteran of more 1,000 NHL games, told this story to 30 star-gazed teens in the recreation room of the Arctic Winter Games Arena in Iqaluit Aug. 13 as part of the Nunavut Stars hockey camp, which runs until Aug. 16.
His message: if you want something bad enough, you’ll have to work hard to get it.
May was also joined in the discussion group by Gillian Apps, a 2006 and 2010 gold medalist for Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team, also in Iqaluit for the city’s tenth hockey camp.
The camp’s goal: to help kids from Nunavut develop as hockey players, and to promote healthy lifestyles.
This year about 120 kids from many Nunavut communities have come to Iqaluit where well-known coaches in the hockey world, figures such as Mike Pelino, head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes, are putting them to the test.
All players receive breakfast and lunch, and, when not on the ice, they take part in discussion groups to talk about hockey and life lessons.
Coordinator Jesse Unaapik Mike has been a part of the camp for the full decade, and she’s seen some quality players pass through — some even play down South, she said. But the camp isn’t just about the hockey for her.
“To me, my dream for this was to be a community initiative. And it happens at low cost, out of our community spirits,” said Unaapik Mike.
Two kids randomly selected from every Nunavut community get a free trip to attend the camp, but they must have a place to stay in Iqaluit. Others who want to join the camp must pay for air fare.
Local sponsors such as First Air supplies air transportation, while the Frobisher Inn houses the celebrities and coaches for free. A host of local companies and groups also donate cash and resources to the cause.
It’s this community feel that brings Unaapik Mike back every year. She thinks hockey players shouldn’t have to go South to get training.
“My thing is, we shouldn’t have to do everything in the South. We should start building here, and making things happen here.So we want to make sure they have the opportunity because it leads to a healthy lifestyle,” said Unaapik Mike, adding that hockey can also lead to a better way to engage kids to in their communities.
“This is a doorway for them towards volunteering and leading,” she said.
Although May admits it’s hard to “move mountains” for the short period of time he’s here, he hopes he makes the same impressions that famous coaches and players made on him as a youngster.
In May’s case, it was Toronto Maple Leaf player Steve Thomas.
“As a young boy, it was tangible. You knew somebody. You felt like you were chasing him, and I ended up playing against him,” May said.
And now it’s his turn to give back.
“Anywhere I go, it’s in my mind that I don’t want to take from anyone. Anywhere I am, I want to enhance that situation. Have fun, but enhance that situation,” he said. “Hopefully those kids will get that message.”