Hundreds of young hockey players converged on the MTS Iceplex Friday for the Annual Aboriginal Minor Hockey Tournament.

The event has exploded in popularity. Starting out in 1987 with just four teams, the 27th annual event boasts 57 teams this year.

peguis girls hockey team

Girls of the Peguis First Nation's girls' peewee team head into the game against Cross Lake Islanders, the only other First Nation to field an all-girls' team at the tournament Friday at the MTS Iceplex. (Marjorie Dowhos/CBC)

One of the most closely watched games will also make history for the event: two all-girl teams, one from Peguis First Nation, the other from Cross Lake, went up against each other Friday afternoon. 

Up until now, if girls wanted to play, they had to join one of the boys' teams. For many of the girls, just being on the ice is still new. 

It's Mikayla Keeper's second year with the Cross Lake Islanders Pee Wee Squad. She said she's wanted to play hockey ever since she saw her brothers lace up. 

"My brothers are older than me, so I can't really play with them," she said. But, she added, "They're good and I just want to be like them."

Cross Lake and Peguis are the only two First Nations to have all-girl teams. While Cross Lake is in its second year, it's the first year for Peguis.

cross lake girls hockey team

Girls with the Cross Lake Islanders Pee Wee Squad get ready Friday to take on the girls' team from Peguis First Nation, in a historic match-up between the only two First Nations that have all-girls teams in the Annual Aboriginal Minor Hockey Tournament that runs this weekend at the MTS Iceplex. (Marjorie Dowhos/CBC)


Cross Lake Coach Kerry Muswagon said many of the girls never played hockey or even skated until they joined the league, and that's why this tournament is significant for so many reasons.  

"They've always watched the boys and they've always wanted to be involved," he said. "They have a passion and they carry it with them in their hearts and they love the game of hockey."

Muswagon said the girls are "our young ambassadors" in a number of ways. 

Sonya Kohoko, head coach Peguis Mohawks Girls Pee Wee, agrees. 

"I hope that it does encourage a lot of more girls to partake in hockey, so there can be more girl teams," she said. 

For Mikayla Keeper, it's the MTS Iceplex today, perhaps Canada's Olympic team tomorrow, and then? 

"Maybe make the NHL some day," she said, laughing.

As the tournament kicks off Friday, Cross Lake beat Peguis 8-3. The tournament runs all weekend.