Young St. Theresa Point hockey players bring NHL dreams to Winnipeg
Two teams from isolated northern Manitoba First Nation playing in tournament for very first time
He promised that he would take them to Winnipeg for a hockey tournament. This weekend, Ralph Harper is delivering on his promise.
Two hockey teams from the isolated Manitoba community of St. Theresa Point First Nation are in Winnipeg for their first-ever hockey tournament, participating in the Southeast Tribal Council's annual Minor Hockey Tournament this weekend.
"We never actually participated in a tournament," said Harper, who lives in St. Theresa Point and has been involved in organizing the hockey teams for four years now.
Last summer, he promised the youth that he would take them to Winnipeg for a tournament — something southern Manitoba hockey teams might take for granted, but a significant challenge for Harper's teams.
St. Theresa Point, in northern Manitoba's Island Lake region, is accessible by plane in the summer and winter roads in the winter.
The 465-kilometre trek involves an 11-hour drive on the winter road. The local school buses are in need of repairs, which meant Harper had to make the trip three times in a span of three days to ensure that all of the kids got to play this weekend.
Eleven-year-old Evan Flett is one of the 40 hockey players skating in Winnipeg for the first time.
"It's very fun. I'm here with all my friends," said Flett.
The young defenceman says his favourite player is Jonathan Toews, and he hopes to play for the Winnipeg Jets.
Organizing the trip
The trip has been in the works for months now, after Harper initiated a fundraising drive to bring the hockey players to Winnipeg for the tournament.
"We've been trying to all of these years and finally we put together enough teams for this tournament," said Vernon Monias, who has been helping to coach one of the teams.
The teams raised thousands of dollars through rummage and bake sales and local bingos, and have gathered support from St. Theresa Point's chief and council.
"Where we come from in St. Theresa Point, we don't have an arena. We have to travel to Garden Hill [19 kilometres away] to make ice time for practice."
The community arena was burned down in 2013, leaving young hockey players to play floor hockey inside, or play outdoors.
While Harper was travelling back to St. Theresa Point to pick up players, Monias was in Winnipeg getting a practice in before the tournament starts.
"For a lot of them, it will be their first time on the [artificial] ice. I was telling them that it's gonna be super fast and slippery, it's not like back home," said Monias.
Dreams of making it to the NHL
Monias coaches the team because he knows how happy it makes the kids. He also has dreams of his own.
"You do it for the children. It makes them happy," said Monias.
"Hopefully we'll produce an [NHL] player someday from way up north, which we can call our own. It's a dream," said Monias.
The weekend will be more than just hockey. It's also a chance to give the kids a glimpse of city life. They plan on going to a movie theatre and getting a bird's-eye view of the city by having dinner at the Prairie 360 revolving restaurant.
They'll also take in some professional hockey — sponsors have provided them with tickets to a Manitoba Moose game this weekend.