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Sask. takes silver at National Aboriginal Hockey Championship

Tyson Wuttunee says one of the games will go down in history as a highlight of his coaching career.

KERROBERT – The Saskatchewan mens’ team was victorious in claiming the silver medal at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship in Grande Prairie, Alta. Behind the boards with the players was Kerrobert local, Tyson Wuttunee, who was added to the provincial team as an assistant coach as a late add-on.

“Dylan Kemp, one of the coaching staff for the girls’ team, had reached out to me about a month prior to the championship, asking if I would be interested in being an assistant coach. I was all in on the opportunity and was pretty excited to be joining,” said Wuttunee.

With the short notice, Wuttunee had only one chance to see his team practice in Edmonton, Alta. before boarding the bus to Grande Prairie. During that practice, Wuttunee said he saw a bonded team, showing respect and being fully prepared.

“Most players are shy to go into a new arena, especially when they are younger. I felt like a kid all over again,” he laughed. Although he did not know many of the boys playing, many of the players knew Wuttunee’s name.

“There are some kids where I worked with their older siblings through the various power skating and skills camp I have put on with my business, BNK. But somehow all those boys knew my name!”

As this was his first time being involved in the NAHC, Wuttunee was impressed, from the organization to the calibre of hockey that was being played. As a mental health advocate, Wuttunee was happy to see Aboriginal kids are being given the opportunity to play hockey.

“Most of these kids live in communities with one or two other Aboriginal persons. When they come to an event like this, they get a sense of connection and belonging to their culture and heritage. They make lifelong friendships, which then improves their overall mental health,” added Wuttunee.

At the end of the preliminary round, Team Saskatchewan was sitting fourth in the standings. In the semi-finals, the team was going face-to-face with Team British Columbia who was at the top of the standings.

“The boys played will all their heart. It was exciting when the game went into double overtime and then securing the win at 4-3. That game will go down in history as one of the highlights of my coaching career,” said Wuttunee.

Team Saskatchewan was then in the gold medal game against Team Ontario but was unable to crack the goose egg from the scoreboard, making them the silver medalists for 2024.

Since coming home from the event, Wuttunee has already started looking into the application process to become a head coach for the provincial Aboriginal teams, for either the boys or girls teams.

“I loved every minute of being an assistant coach. This program is gaining traction each year, even to the point it is being live streamed. I want to see how far these players will go and be a role model for them. I saw how much respect these boys had outside of the locker room, so I want to continue that with future generations,” said Wuttunee. He also added that if he is selected as a coach in the future, he hopes to utilize his BNK program for the teams, helping them connect better on and off the ice.

For the girls’ Aboriginal team, Bree Purcell of Unity was on the ice representing the province. She attended tryouts, where she went through two rounds of evaluations before being selected to play.

“Some of my biggest highlights from the past week were meeting new people not only on Saskatchewan but from all the other teams as well. Interacting with other teams at opening ceremonies, the banquet and closing ceremonies were such valuable moments,” said Purcell.

Another highlight for the centre was learning how to come together as a team, even though they didn’t get the outcome they had wanted.

“Most of the players on my team were girls I have played with or against in the regular season. It’s pretty cool, coming together and putting everything aside to try and come home with a medal,” she added.

Purcell also said she learned a lot from Jacquelyn Chief being on the bench as she played for the U of S Huskies this past year and has lots of experience.

The Saskatchewan girls’ team ended up being fifth in the standings. While they lost out in the qualifying game again British Columbia, they were able to secure a 5-1 win over the Atlantic team in the relegation game.

This was the first time the championship was hosted in the province of Alberta and was held over the week of May 5 to 11. Teams from Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, the Atlantic provinces and the Eastern Door & North were also at the event. Players such as Jordin Tootoo, Zach Whitecloud, Brandon Montour and Ethan Bear have all played in the NAHC before making their way to the National Hockey League.