'It's our Stanley Cup': Inuvik hockey tournament celebrates 30th anniversary

For a group of young hockey players from Tuktoyaktuk, this tournament is the biggest event of the year.

'The kids, it’s their dream to be in the IRC cup,' says coach Joe Nasogaluak

An archived photo of a group of hockey players at a previous IRC Cup tournament. It's the tournament's 30th anniversary. (Inuvialuit Regional Corporation)

For a group of young hockey players from Tuktoyaktuk, this tournament is the biggest event of the year.

Their team, the NDN Army, is one of 17 playing in this year's IRC Cup in Inuvik. It's a tournament that draws hundreds of players and spectators from across the Beaufort region and Mackenzie Delta.

"The kids, it's their dream to be in the IRC cup," says NDN coach Joe Nasogaluak.

"It's our Stanley Cup."

Players on the ice at a previous tournament. The IRC Cup was started in 1989 by the late Roy Ipana. (Inuvialuit Regional Corporation)

After decades of playing, Nasogaluak is staying on the bench this year as coach of his son's team.

"It gives them a goal, motivation," he said. 

"Because you know we don't have the big triple A, double A. We have the IRC Cup. That's how they grow up. They want to make it to the cup."

The IRC Cup was started in 1989 by the late Roy Ipana, a well-known Inuvialuit hunter, trapper and advocate for Arctic sports. 

Noel Gordon, 64, has been a part of it since the beginning. This year, he's playing in the Old Timers Division for the team the Old Dogs.

"The arena would get ever loud. It was so loud. It just made everything fun," he said.

"A lot of community members come watch. They're cheering for their communities. For a lot for them this is their big thing for the year."

An old newspaper article about a previous IRC Cup tournament. (Inuvialuit Regional Corporation)

But Gordon says the original spirit behind the cup has been lost in recent years.

"It's gotten too big actually. The hockey back then was community players against community players and that made it more fun for the fans," he said.

"Nowadays they're bringing a couple of players from the community and all the rest are imports from down south. Doesn't make it fun anymore."

Gordon says in the past, teams have spent thousands of dollars hiring and bringing up semi-professional players from southern Canada.

"Roy [Ipana] started it out to bring the communities together and have these young players play and now all those young players are sitting because their spots are being taken by down-south players," he said.

However, this year, organizers have put a cap on the number of non-Indigenous and southern players each team can have.

These are the medals that this year's winning team will be given. (Inuvialuit Regional Corporation)

Both Nasogaluak and Gordon say it's the right move and getting back to the tournament's roots will have fans cheering for the next 30 years.

The tournament wraps up on Sunday night.