North

No arena? No problem. Hay River, N.W.T hockey returns to its roots

From old-school outdoor rinks to indoor "floorball," the second largest hockey scene in the NWT is making the best of a year with no arena.

With the arena being rebuilt this year, the town has turned to old and new ways to play the game

Novice hockey players brave -20 C temperatures to get some ice time in Hay River, where the indoor rink is being rebuilt this year. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

The scene is something out of The Hockey Sweater: tiny hockey players scrambling around on rough ice under an orange sunset, moving fast to keep warm in –20 weather. 

Hay River has the second largest minor hockey association in the Northwest Territories, but no indoor rink at the moment. For this season, outdoor rinks like this one are the only game in town.

The Don Stewart Recreation Centre has been demolished, with a new, $21-million structure rising in its place in time for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games. That leaves hundreds of kids, well, out in the cold.

Not that they seem to mind. 

Ice that's not perfect 

"It's just fun to be outside," says Loren Derocher. He comes to the rink on his own time outside of practice, making the most of warm days but still braving the cold when necessary.

Derocher's family comes from Saskatchewan, where his dad grew up playing hockey outside on a pond. 

Forced to take practice outside while the town builds a new indoor hockey arena, players practice on frozen rinks outdoors. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

That's what makes it special for coach Nancy Stanley. 

"It's kind of nice to have the kids get used to outdoor [playing], and on ice that's not perfect, because that's what I played on when I was younger," she says.

Some days are too cold for even the hardiest of players, however. 

"Today is fairly small," she says. 

"When we're doing -20, sometimes we don't have the kids show up."

A plan for cold days 

The league has a plan to keep the game alive even on the coldest days.

In the warm gym at Harry Camsell K-3 School the following day, the Hay River Minor Hockey Association has set up a gym for "floorball", which lets kids practice many elements of the game with their skates off. 

When it gets too cold to play outside, hockey practices in Hay River, N.W.T head indoors. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

The hockey association says it may have actually had more enrolment this year than in a normal season, possibly to the relative ease of picking up indoor hockey.

The kids practice ball-handling drills, carefully walking a line around the gym as they keep the ball under control. 

"I may not be the fastest, but if I can keep control of the ball I'll keep it away from you," Stanley cautions. 

With that out of the way, the group puts on gear to get ready for the faceoff. It may not be the same game as they'll be playing next winter, but the children rush to begin the game anyway.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jimmy Thomson is a former reporter for CBC North.

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