Former NHLer Joé Juneau shut out of youth hockey program in Nunavik

After working with young Inuit hockey players for the past 11 years, Joé Juneau is being dismissed from his role in Nunavik's minor hockey program as it undergoes structural changes.

Makivik Corporation announces new structure to its minor hockey program

Joé Juneau played in the NHL from 1991-2004, with the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens. (Radio-Canada)

​Nunavik's minor hockey program in Quebec's far north will undergo a major structural change, after the Makivik Corporation announced it was ending its 11-year collaboration with former Montreal Canadien and Olympian Joé Juneau.

Juneau helped found the Northern Youth Hockey Development Program, which is offered to youth in Nunavik's 14 communities.

He said he was not surprised to learn he was being excluded from the program.

"We saw it coming," Juneau said, during a practice at the arena that bears his name in Pont-Rouge, Que., on the outskirts of Quebec City.

Makivik, which oversees funding to Inuit communities, announced last week it will take a new approach to minor hockey, focusing on youth participation and less on competition.

In February, the Kativik Regional Gouvernment and Makivik had already started restructuring, slashing funding by $875,000.
Siqua Munick, from Kuujjuaq, Que., is one of more than 1,000 youth who have participated in the hockey program over the past decade. (Radio-Canada)

The budget cut brought on the cancellation of its competitive program, in which 100 select players would fly south to participate in tournaments with other Quebec teams.

Rocky relationship

Juneau continued with the program even though he didn't approve of the decision.

"Like everywhere when you have to select players, it can put people in uncomfortable situations," Juneau said.

Makivik had released in December 2016 the results of a study it commissioned to measure the impact the hockey program had on crime prevention.

Since the program received 80 per cent of its funding from the Ungaluk Funding Program — an agreement between the Quebec government and Makivik aimed at crime prevention — the organization argued the cuts were justifiable. 

The Ottawa firm it had mandated concluded the hockey program could not "claim to be a crime prevention program, nor should it claim to be an education promotion program."

Juneau called the reasoning ridiculous.

"When those teams won tournaments, it's not just about winning," he said. "They learn about teamwork, perseverance, respecting the rules. It has a long-term effect."

'Natural evolution' says Makivik

The Makivik Corporation said it was unavailable for comment, but the president Jobie Tukkiapik thanked Juneau for his work.

"We are not turning our back on this period, but are simply moving forward into a new chapter of hockey in Nunavik, which can be described as 'Made in Nunavik by Inuit for Inuit,'" he said in a statement.

Joé Juneau worked with the hockey program based in Northern Quebec for 11 years. (Radio-Canada)
Tukkiapik said the changes are designed to increase participation rates for young players and foster community involvement.

The new structure will be based on work done by the Nunavik Minor Hockey Orientation Committee, which was formed in the spring with local representatives as well as parents.

While Juneau said he is happy a program will continue to be offered to youth, he maintained the transition could have been done differently.

"I always told the young coaches there I wanted to lose my job and see them take my place," Juneau said.

"But they didn't need to try to prove that our work wasn't done well to justify this to the population."

New local approach

Makivik said the new approach will continue to be developed by the committee, taking into consideration the integration of Inuit culture and language and getting parents involved.

For the 2017-18 hockey season, the organization will also be hiring a regional hockey coordinator and will organize regional tournaments at the end of the year.

Joé Juneau has set up a hockey development program for youth in Quebec's Portneuf region, where is he originally from. (Radio-Canada)

With files from Radio-Canada's Carl Marchand