All-Indigenous ball hockey team competes in national championships in Winnipeg
'I take a lot of pride in it,' says Jeff Desjarlais, head coach of the Manitoba United Warriors
Winnipeg is hosting some of the best youth ball hockey teams in the country this weekend — including an all-Indigenous Manitoba team.
Right-winger Tyler Nault, who is Métis, said he's been looking forward to hitting the arena with the Manitoba United Warriors.
"It means a lot…. [And] there's other Indigenous kids on this team that are proud to represent this stuff," said Nault, 17, whose dad is one of the coaches.
"There's kind of like a brother bond in that room. Like, all the guys are super close. We all hang out outside of hockey."
Jeff Desjarlais, coach of the under-17 division team, said as someone who grew up playing ball hockey himself, it meant a lot to him to put together and help lead the group.
"To pass that down on to the youth now, it's an honour, and I take a lot of pride in it," Desjarlais said.
There were no youth teams when he started playing ball hockey as a teen.
"I had to play with the men, and it was tough.… [I] learned and played against full-grown men that played a little more rough, right? So I wanted them to have the opportunity to come and play in the league against their own age group."
Desjarlais, who's from Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, said the 25 players on his team are from different communities and First Nations across Manitoba.
He hopes to inspire more Indigenous youth to get involved in the game.
WATCH | All-Indigenous Manitoba ball hockey team competes with teams across Canada:
"I just want to continue growing this sport … and keep the Indigenous teams coming through and being active in this league and this sport."
His nephew, Dayton Desjarlais, is also on the roster. The 16-year-old said he's been enjoying his time as part of a team where he's so close to so many of his teammates.
"It's been pretty fun. You know, most of my family's on this team [and so are some] childhood friends," he said.
"I think it's pretty cool, especially that my uncle put it together."
The team lost to the Withrow Park Knights 5-2 on Thursday, but they're hoping to make a comeback Friday against the Calgary Fury.
The Manitoba United Warriors are one of 32 teams from across the country competing in the championships, said event co-ordinator Jeff Dzikowicz.
Teams are coming from as far away as Newfoundland and British Columbia, with other teams from Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"It's going to be pretty fierce and heavy competition," he said.
Dzikowicz, who's coaching Manitoba's under-19 girls team in the championships, said he's looking forward to watching the players in action.
"I just love the energy of the whole thing. Like, these youth teams come in and they come in like pros.… Everybody's decked out with all their gear and everybody just has a great time," he told CBC Manitoba's News at 6 host Sheila North.
"It's a lot of energy and, you know, young energy, and it kind of reinvigorates us old guys around the game."
The Canadian Ball Hockey Association 2022 Junior National Championships runs through Sunday at Canada Life Centre, the Bell MTS Iceplex and Keith Bodley Arena.
With files from Peggy Lam and Sheila North