10 years of 'houseboat hockey' on Great Slave Lake

A decade-long pickup game of shinny on Great Slave Lake will be part of coverage in this year’s Hockey Day in Canada on Saturday.
For about 10 years, a handful of Yellowknifers have cleared a hockey rink on Great Slave Lake, not far from where a motley collection of houseboats freeze in for the winter. (Elizabeth McMillan)

In the sub-Arctic, most hockey players prefer heated arenas to pond hockey.

But not all.

For about the last decade, a group of Yellowknifers have been gathering every Saturday to play shinny on Great Slave Lake.

Craig Scott built his first rink outside his houseboat home 10 years ago.

"If you live in Yellowknife, you've got to go outside in the winter or you'll go crazy. It's a good way to get some exercise.”

This year, the rink moved away from the sheltered area near Joliffe Island, closer to where the Snowking builds his castle each year.

But it’s still within sight of a motley collection of houseboats frozen into the ice, with their wood stoves smoking day and night.

The game goes on, even at -30 C.

“The feet are the main thing, I got frostbite a couple weeks ago when I played,” Scott says. He uses strips of rabbit fur inside his skates and fleece boots over top to keep his toes warm.

I love that this exists.- Lachlan MacLean, hockey player

The ice on the lake freezes up mid-November, and people keep on playing through April, in what’s got to be one of the longest outdoor seasons in the country.

The length of the season rivals the NHL, but the attitudes don’t.

"There's no egos on the ice, they're not allowed out here," Scott says.

For many, houseboat hockey is part of why they live in this northern town.

"I love that this exists,” says Lachlan MacLean, who’s been part of the pick-up game since he moved to Yellowknife.

“I came here, didn't know anyone,” says MacLean. “I heard about these hockey games, came down and that's where I got started in Yellowknife."

Players are not put off by the fact that this year’s heavy snow means extra shovelling before game time.  

There's day-long television coverage for Hockey Day in Canada this Saturday.

CBC is broadcasting out of Lloydminster, Alta. with Ron MacLean and special guests.


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