She shoots, she scores in Nunavut: Sanikiluaq girls hit the ice
"If we continue to see the commitment, the sky’s the limit"
These days, the hockey arena in Sanikiluaq is full of girls and young women—38 of them, to be exact—all dressed in brand new equipment.
Some of the girls are wobbly on their skates, but since the beginning of the year, the group has grown noticeably stronger, faster and more confident.
The new Jumpstart Sanikiluaq Girls Hockey League meets five afternoons or evenings a week; four of those are training days while one day a week, the girls divide into two teams and play a game for family and friends to come and watch.
Caroline Iqaluk, 12, had only ever played floor hockey before she received new skates and hockey equipment earlier this year.
“It was like Christmas,” Iqaluk said.
A few months later, hockey has become part of the routine for the young defencewoman, who says she likes having an activity to get her out of the house. Her favourite training technique is doing “bubbles,” when skaters move their legs open and closed as they skate forward in a straight line.
“There’s no real organized hockey in the community,” said Michael Small, the girls’ hockey coach and teacher at Sanikiluaq’s Paatsaali high school.
“Some of the men play once in awhile, but there’s no training or practice. And a lot of the boys just borrow their dads’ or uncles’ equipment.”
About two years ago, some of the girls at the school said they’d like to play hockey and asked Small if he could help. That launched him on a year-long search for funding or donations, which ended with a positive response from the Canadian Tire Jump Start program.
The program approved a $20,000 grant for the community last year, which translated into hockey equipment for 44 girls, Small said.
The equipment started arriving last fall, but the group couldn’t get started until the natural ice at the arena had set in late January.
“For a lot of them, it was totally new to put on hockey equipment,” Small said. “But it was beautiful to see it all come together.”
Then the newly-formed Jumpstart Sanikiluaq Girls Hockey League got a major boost in February when three trainers with Hockey Canada came to Sanikiluaq to run a three-day development camp.
The trainers included Jessica Wong, a former Canadian Woman’s National team defencewoman and two other Hockey Canada staffers, Mandi Duhamel and Kelsey Chadwick.
“Jessica is my new role model,” said 17-year-old Ikuma Cookie, a goaltender.
“She taught me how to do the butterfly and make moves.”
Cookie, who is also new to hockey, said she feels both “excited and scared” while she’s out on the ice, especially with pucks being shot her way.
“But I like to save the puck,” she said. “I have made some good stops.”
Cookie also credits the league’s success to Small’s work with the group. “He’s the best,” she said.
Small brushes off the compliment, noting he’s entirely new to coaching. He believes the development camp and the opportunity to see talented women hockey players on the ice was what really sparked an interest.
“Having the girls see strong female leadership and strong female hockey players was so motivational,” he said. “I just can’t provide that kind of inspiration.”
The league is also a community effort, Small said. The local daycare centre paid to ship up the equipment; the hamlet provides the ice time and zamboni driver and parent volunteers play a key role in daily training.
The league only has another month or so of ice time at the local arena before the warmer weather arrives. But Small thinks by next season, the girls could be ready to play tournaments outside the community.
“Even after just six weeks on the ice, they’ve come a long way,” Small said. “I think if we continue to see the commitment, the sky’s the limit.”
You can watch highlights of the Hockey Canada development camp in Sanikiluaq here.