Some of Canada's best junior hockey players are in Winnipeg this week to compete in the national aboriginal hockey championships.

More than 500 players — teen boys and girls — on 18 teams from across the country are taking part in the tournament, which is held in a different city every year. Participants are First Nations, Inuit and Métis and represent all 10 provinces and three territories.

'We're hoping that getting more aboriginal athletes recognized and scouted will get them opportunities for college, university …as well as playing with some mainstream, high-profile hockey teams.' —Marcia Trudeau, Aboriginal Sport Circle

A special tribute this year is being made to Manitoba hockey legend Reggie Leach, a winger who played for three NHL teams between 1970 and 1983.

Nicknamed the Riverton Rifle for his hometown of Riverton, about 110 kilometers north of Winnipeg, Leach still holds the NHL record for the most goals scored during a single playoff season. He scored 19 in 1976.

"I think that this tournament is great for young kids. It gives them an identity where they are one of the best native hockey players in the province, not only in Manitoba, but across Canada, and they're representing their province, which is great," said Leach, who is now a junior hockey coach for the Manitoulin Islanders of the Northern Ontario Bantam Hockey League.

He said hockey has become a huge component of contemporary native culture.

Marcia Trudeau of the Aboriginal Sport Circle, which established the tournament in 2001, said the event, which recently expanded from 12 to 18 teams, has become a great opportunity for aboriginal hockey players to get noticed.

"We're hoping that getting more aboriginal athletes recognized and scouted will get them opportunities for college, university …as well as playing with some mainstream, high-profile hockey teams," she said.

The games this week are being played at the Max Bell Centre and the Dakota Community Centre until Saturday.