Ottawa referees bring skills, and hockey gear, to Iqaluit tournament
It 'just really brings that much more purpose into what we're doing here'
Ottawa referees Allison Barker and Victoria Ozimkowski packed slightly more than their officiating gear to the Arctic Winter Games hockey tournament in Iqaluit this week. OK... a lot more.
Inspired by stories of Nunavut kids scouring through piles of donated hockey equipment to get what they need to play, the AWG's only female referees lugged more than 70 kilograms of hockey gear to Iqaluit, all to add to those piles.
"It's honestly one of the best feelings in the world," said Ozimkowski, who was approached by Barker a few weeks before the tournament. "That just really brings that much more purpose into what we're doing here. Just knowing how much they're going to benefit."
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The two sourced gear from family, friends and fellow referees to gather as much as they could — and they say they only scratched the surface.
The final inventory tallied nearly a dozen pairs of skates, half a dozen helmets including a goalie mask, goalie equipment, visors, pants, gloves, and countless jerseys and socks.
"Mostly well-loved stuff," Ozimkowski said, chuckling.
Referee equipment too
Arriving in one of Iqaluit's arenas, Ozimkowski says she confirmed the gear was badly needed.
"We found all these cubbies full of rental skates, and we noticed that most of the cubbies were empty. So as soon as we saw that we said: ''That was perfect!' We hit the nail on the head!"
On top of the loads of hockey gear, Barker and Ozimkowski also managed to squeeze in some referee equipment. Barker hopes it will get kids motivated to give refereeing a try, in a territory that by many accounts has a severe shortage.
Of the 14 referees at the tournament, only one is from Nunavut after others failed to meet the eligibility requirements.
"Coming up here, they've found it's very hard to recruit referees and get them certified, but also get gear for them," Barker said. "Even kids that aren't necessarily growing up playing hockey, it gives them an opportunity [to get their skates on]."
Iqaluit shares the wealth
Iqaluit Minor Hockey Association president Andrew Cox says the equipment is a great addition to the already huge pile of donated gear the league gets every year.
Over the last few years, it's gotten to the point where the amount of donated gear satisfies the needs for Iqaluit, and has enabled the league to share the wealth to other communities across Nunavut.
"We'll offer it up as soon as they get to town. We have about 70 or 80 leftover sticks too that we'll just be handing out for free [to kids] once Toonik Tyme starts. A lot of kids are coming without sticks, or pretty used ones. So once they come, they'll get a brand new stick offered to them. It'll be great."
Karma eventually repaid Barker and Ozimkowski for lugging the gear up to the North by plane.
Each of them would have had to pay extra baggage fees, if not for the airline agents who sought out passengers who'd be willing to travel with any of the three hockey bags.
Of course, people stepped up.