Manitoba

Opaskwayak Cree Nation loses hockey team after 20 years

Opaskwayak Cree Nation announced Wednesday the 2016-17 season will be the last for the OCN Blizzard.

2016-17 season will be last one for OCN Blizzard

The OCN Blizzard is ceasing operations after 20 years in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

A northern Manitoba community is losing its hockey team after 20 years of operation.

Opaskwayak Cree Nation announced Wednesday the 2016-17 season will be the last for the OCN Blizzard.

"The announcement comes after careful deliberations with Opaskwayak Cree Nation representatives from administration and finance, who presented recommendations to the Opaskwayak Cree Nation leadership," the First Nation stated in a press release.

"Based on the information presented, the decision was made to proceed with winding down on the operations of the OCN Blizzard, announced officially on Dec. 20, 2016."

The hockey team entered the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 1996.

League commissioner Kim Davis said the closure was a disappointment but not a surprise.

Looking forward, Davis said he's concerned about how the league will continue to recruit young Indigenous players.

"You know there are Indigenous players playing on other teams in the league, and have over the last number of years," Davis said.

"But in terms of a team like this, whose focus has been in that area, that's obviously a huge disappointment for sure, to say the least."

It's one of a series of blows to the community this year, including the near-closure of the Tolko paper mill — which employs 300 people — in neighbouring The Pas and news in August that the Aseneskak Casino, which employs nearly 150 people, plans to move.

The casino's initial plans were to move to Winnipeg, but Premier Brian Pallister later said that can't happen.

In October, the IGA in Opaskwayak Cree Nation also announced plans to close, taking 47 jobs with it.

now