By Rick Garrick
PIC RIVER FIRST NATION – A The Fort Frances Lakers – Dryden Ice Dogs exhibition hockey game was played on Sept. 11 in Pic River to remember three young hockey players and a father of four who died two years ago in a car crash.
“To have his team step up and volunteer and come and keep the memory of (my son Jaret LeClair) and particularly his friends — you know hockey played such a big part in their lives — is tremendous,” says Byron Leclair, whose son was one of the four community members who died in an October 2012 car accident near Pic River. “Jaret loved playing with the Lakers and particularly loved his games against Dryden — you get small town rivalries. I think it is going to add an aspect to the game that we are really going to appreciate.”
The three youth, Jaret LeClair, Jordan Nabigon and Kody Nabigon, passed away after their car collided with a pickup truck driven by Greg Nabigon, who was well known on the powwow trail, on Hwy. 627 near Pic River, which is located near Marathon on the north shore of Lake Superior.
“Last year, the first memorial game we had was a very somber occasion — it was so close to the accident,” LeClair says. “This year it’s much more about the game, much more about the lives and the celebration that the game deserves.”
The Pic River Sharks – Novice to Bantam – played a game of three-on-three before the game.
“We miss our young people who passed and we wanted this year’s game to be a celebration of hockey, which meant so much to these young people,” says Pic River Chief Duncan Michano. “We want to remind our children here today exactly how much we loved them.”
LeClair recalls travelling for hundreds of thousands of kilometres with his son to games across northwestern Ontario.
“Hockey represents such a bonding experience for parents, and for fathers in particular, and their young sons,” LeClair says. “It was such an important part of my relationship with my son, as it was for the other fathers who lost their sons.”
Julie and Donald Michano had the honour starting the opening ceremonies with an Honour Song and Kiara Michano sang O Canada. The puck was dropped by Logan Lyons and his brother Calib. Logan was hit by a car last week and lucky to be at the game. About 450 people attended the exhibition game that saw the Ice Dogs winning in a shoot out, 3-2.
“This year the anticipation of watching junior hockey in Marathon again is — you can feel it — it is palpable,” LeClair says. “People are remembering our sons that passed away in stories. It’s nice to welcome the teams to the community again.”
In addition to playing the memorial game, the Fort Frances Lakers players shared their experiences in hockey with students at the Pic River Elementary School throughout the day with hockey drills, activity about best scoring angles and a game of “Hockey Jeopardy”. The younger Grades and the Lakers read the book “The Hockey Sweater” and the players helped the students design their own jerseys.
“I’m sure our children at the elementary school are just as excited as the rest of us fans,” Eclairs says.
Pic River plans to use proceeds from the memorial game to establish a memorial at the site of the accident. Contributions can also be made to the memorial fund via Ojibways of the Pic River First Nation, Memorial Fund, Box 193, General Delivery, Heron Bay, Ontario, P0T 1R0.