Thunder Bay

Kingston couple leads fundraising effort for new 'Rez Girls' 64 rink

A peewee girls hockey team from Eabametoong First Nation may soon have a new ice surface to hone their skills on, thanks to a fundraising effort by a pair of Kingston fans.

90k needed for new concrete ice pad in Eabametoong arena

A Kingston couple has launched a fundraising effort to install a new concrete ice pad in the Eabametoong arena, which would be used by the Rez Girls 64 girls hockey team. (Steve Koopman)

A girls hockey team from Eabametoong First Nation may soon have a new ice surface to hone their skills on, thanks to a fundraising effort by a pair of Kingston fans.

Katie and Steve Koopman, who documented the Rez Girls 64 Wolves trip to Kanata to compete in their first-ever all-girls hockey tournament earlier this year, are working to raise enough funds to make a needed improvement to the team's rink in Eabametoong, also known as Fort Hope.

"Although they have an arena, it's an older arena," Katie Koopman said. "It only has a pebbled pad. They need a cement pad to properly hold the ice and keep it longer during their season, so they can start early, finish later."

"It would also gift the community with a cement base for future events and activities."

The new cement pad would cost about $90,000, she said, and the hope is to raise the funds within about 30 days, so the cement would have time to cure and dry before it gets too cold.

"Hopefully, the girls would have it on time to practice for this season," Katie Koopman said.

The Koopmans have been involved with the Rez Girls team for some time. The first heard about the team through a CBC Doc Project story about the Rez Girls, which aired about a year ago.

When they heard the documentary, Katie Koopman said, the couple "fell in love" with the team and its story.

Members of the Rez Girls 64 Wolves peewee hockey team from Eabametoong First Nation during a visit to Parliament Hill in Ottawa earlier this year. The team was competing in a hockey tournament in Kanata. (Rez Girls 64 Wolves/Facebook)

The documentary highlighted their struggles with equipment — the team didn't have any, but a southern Ontario high school student named Emma Tworzyanski organized an equipment drive — and the team's efforts to raise funds to participate in a boys hockey tournament in Thunder Bay.

Then, when the Rez Girls raised enough money to participate in a girls tournament in Kanata earlier this year, the Koopmans saw a chance to get involved directly, offering to document the team's journey through their photography business.

They also raised funds to get the team tickets to see the Ottawa Senators play the Edmonton Oilers, the Rez Girls' first live NHL game.

"It just meant a lot for us," Steve Koopman said. "We felt that we could just make a difference."

"Sometimes you always want to work within your community, and we just saw an opportunity to do something of good that was outside of it."

The Koopmans have started a crowdfunding campaign for the new Eabametoong ice pad. As of mid-day Wednesday, nearly $2,300 had been raised.