The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) are coming to Penticton in 2017.
The announcement was made Thursday during an NAHC banquet in Mississauga, Ont., where the 2016 championship wraps up on Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity for Penticton and the Okanagan people to showcase what we have to offer, the world class amenities that we have with the SOEC,” said Travis Kruger, operations manager for the NAHC 2017.
Sixteen teams (eight male and eight female) with 400 players will come for the championship that has been held annually since 2001. In the past, NHLers such as Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Jordin Tootoo of the New Jersey Devils have played the championship. The NAHC was founded by the Aboriginal Sport Circle and is sanctioned by Hockey Canada, providing a stage for elite bantam and midget aged (14 to 17 years old) Aboriginal players from across Canada to showcase their athletic abilities, while also fostering cultural unity and pride.
Kruger is attending the championship in Ontario with Matthew Baran, president of the Ooknakane Friendship Centre, and Emanuela Sheena. They were invited by the organizing committee to get a sense of what the championship is about.
“It’s really impressive,” said Kruger, who met former NHL coach Ted Nolan, bench boss for Team Ontario’s female squad. “It’s a high-calibre tournament. It’s great talent. It’s fun to watch. It’s hockey at its best.”
“Coming here and seeing what the event looks like, really made me excited,” said Baran, who was relieved to get the news of winning the bid because of the effort put in by people for the application. “It’s great hockey. We’ve got some of the top aboriginal hockey players, male and female coming together and competing. They are giving everything they got. It’s really neat to see. People are going to come out and want to see these games. There is a lot of action, there is a lot of speed.”
Baran said the reason the Ooknakane Friendship Centre submitted an application, with the support of the City of Penticton and Penticton Indian Band, is that it’s viewed as another way to bring attention to the community.
Kruger is excited about it and said it will be great as it follows the Western Canada Cup. He hopes teams will be able to arrive a couple of days early to catch some of the WCC.
Penticton mayor Andrew Jakubeit said hosting hockey events is something the city does well, noting the World Junior A Challenge and the Canucks Young Stars Classic.
“I think it’s exciting news,” said Jakubeit. “From a fans perspective, there is going to be some good talent there. To host a national event, is something that we are proud to be able to do.”
To have a chance to host the championship, Penticton beat out Terrace, Campbell River and Cowichan for the B.C. bid.