Last year, seven teams from across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut competed in the Northern Hockey Challenge, traveling hundreds of miles for weekend tournaments, courtesy of First Air, a major sponsor of the event. This year, a leaner version of the event will see another showdown series between Yellowknife and Hay River.
After last year's loss to Yellowknife in game five of the semi finals, the Yellowknife/Hay River rivalry is alive and well.
The Hay River Huskies are already preparing for a win.
"Guys play that much harder when we play against them,” says Stéphane Millette, who was running a Huskies practice in Hay River yesterday. “They seem to think the same thing. They're the big city. They want to show that they've got the best hockey players and we're there to scrap it out too."
Last year’s event filled arenas in both the N.W.T. and Nunavut.
In the end, Yellowknife swept Iqaluit in the final series.
Greg Rowe helped organize the tournament. He says sponsorship was harder to come by this year, partly because of the Arctic Winter Games scheduled for March, but the mini-series will help fill the void.
"The excitement was building in the community and we just didn't want to lose that for this year,” Rowe says. “And the Yellowknife guys are all onside and looking forward to it too, so it's a good rivalry."
The teams will face off in two three-game series, and each team will have the chance to play at home.
The puck drops in Hay River on Jan. 17.