Even ‘C’ full of intensity

The M’Chigeeng Thunderbirds in black, face off against the Wikwemikong Thunderhawks in red, in the Midget C Finals Wednesday night at the Iceland Arena in Mississauga. Photo by James MacDonald.

By James MacDonald

MISSISSAUGA – The noise is starting to reach a fever pitch. Between the long green and red horns and the pump-action noisemakers, it is getting really loud, with the arena walls amplifying the sounds of hockey spectators.

It’s difficult to believe that this is a Midget “C” Final. The M’Chigeeng Thunderbirds and Wikwemikong Thunderhawks are playing with the intensity  of “A” Championship rivals, and even the referees are having a tough time keeping both teams in check.

But it’s typical Little Native Hockey League competition, says Marvin Assinewai, perennial president of the annual event, and an organizer for more of its 42 instalments than he’d care to  divulge to a stranger.

“With 155 teams entered and close to 350 games played throughout the course of the week, we just tried to put on the best show that we can, and have the most teams go away happy,” he says. “Considering that it was our largest tournament so far, things went extremely well”.

Marvin says he’s grateful to the Six Nations Minor Hockey Association and president Blaine LaForme for setting attendance records in their first time playing hosts to an event that booked games on nine ice surfaces and worked with 30 hotels to accommodate an estimated 5,000 visitors.

For his part, LaForme says “We’re thrilled to be hosting the 42nd Annual Little Native Hockey League Tournament and welcoming the First Nation’s community from across Ontario to the beautiful City of Mississauga.”

The traditional March Break event got underway Sunday March 10 with opening ceremonies featuring Tribal Visions traditional drum and dance group, former world hoop-dance champion Lisa Odjig from Wikwemikong, Six Nations singer Jace Martin, and electronic music group A Tribe Called Red.

As the clock ticks down the final minutes of play in the Midget “C” Final, M’Chigeeng Thunderbirds get a last-minute goal to narrow Wikwemikong’s lead to 3-2, but the Thunderbirds hold on for the win.

Afterwards, as his Wiky players celebrate in their locker room, coach Eddie Shawana reflects on what the team had to overcome to get to this point and why this win mattered.

“When we made the team we had twelve kids, but only nine showed up…so we have been battling over the last couple of days with only nine players against some really solid teams. I’ve been coaching them on and off through the years – right from when they were novice. The boys did all the work, all I did was try and give positive motivation”.

Coach Shawana was born 43 years ago – the year before the first Little NHL tournament was played on Manitoulin Island.

He played as a novice in the event, and participation runs in the family.

“My days are over but I have a six-year-old son in tyke and I’m coaching his team right now.”

This article originally posted April 16, 2013.