North

Cree Nation Bears win first game in Quebec pee-wee hockey tournament

On Monday, the Cree Nation Bears BB team played and won its first game at the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament being held until May 15 in Quebec City. 

'It's an honour for us to be here representing the Cree Nation,' says coach

An all-Cree hockey team, the Cree Nation Bears from northern Que., is competing in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournaments, one of the biggest minor hockey competitions in the world. (Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament)

Editor's note: This story originally claimed that the Cree Nation Bears was the first all-Indigenous team to play at the tournament. In fact, previous Indigenous teams have played in the tournament, including previous all-Cree teams. The story has been substantially updated.

The Cree Nation Bears BB team has played and won in the team's first appearance at the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, being held until May 15 in Quebec City. 

"It was really exciting and some of the kids were kind of nervous … and happy to be here ... they've never played in this kind of a tournament," said William Saganash, the team's head coach. 

Since the 1960s, the prestigious tournament has brought together the best in minor hockey, and is one of the largest minor hockey competitions in the world. After a two-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year brought in 144 teams from all over the United States, Canada and Europe.

"It's an honour for us to be here representing the Cree Nation," said Saganash.

Special welcome for players

There was a special pre-game ceremony held to welcome the Cree Nation Bears to the tournament.

Cree Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty, Huron-Wendat Nation Grand Chief Rémy Vincent, and Quebec's Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière, were on hand to drop the first puck and meet with the players. 

"A little break from goose camp to go show my support to the Cree Nation Bears," wrote Gull-Masty on social media. 

Cree Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty, Rémy Vincent, Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation and provincial Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière were on hand to drop the first puck and meet with the players. (Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament)

"I had a visit with them in the locker room before they hit the ice … It was certainly very exciting," she said. 

In Monday's game, the Cree Nation Bears team won their game in a shoot-out, 5 to 4, against the Barons Québec Nord-Est. They came back from a two-goal deficit to tie the game in the third period and send it into overtime.

"Eventually their nervousness went away and they just played the game," said Saganash.

He credits the whole Cree Nation Bears coaching staff for helping the team get to a place where they could be competitive in a tournament like this. 

We had to develop these kids into the calibre they should be playing- William Saganash, BB Cree Nation Bears coach

"We had to develop these kids into the calibre they should be playing at. We did a lot of exercises with them. I'm very proud," said Saganash.

'Runs in the family'

The BB Cree Nation Bears team is made up of players ranging in age from 11 to 13. Their goalie in Monday's game was Leesha Angie Grant, who is the only girl on the Cree Nation Bears team and one of only a few in the tournament. 

"When she first came, she was kind of shy. She has the potential to be a really good goaltender," said Saganash. 

Both Leesha's father and grandfather played high level hockey as goal tenders, said Saganash, but she comes by her talent honestly. 

"I can say it really runs in the family," said Saganash.

Twelve-year-old Leesha Angie Grant is from Chisasibi, Que. She is the only girl playing with the BB Cree Nation Bears. On Monday, before the team's first game at the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, Cree Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty met with the players in the dressing room. (Cree Nation Bears)

Her father Lee-roy Blacksmith, who is with her in Quebec City, says he's enjoying cheering her on with other Cree parents in the stands.

"It's awesome to watch her play, especially her in nets and playing with the boys," said Blacksmith.

The Cree Nation Bears' next competitive game will be Friday morning at 8 a.m. at the Centre Vidéotron in Quebec City, against the Saint-Laurent Spartans in a bid to advance to the finals. 

now