By Sam Laskaris
MISSISSAUGA – While the on-ice action continued on Tuesday, there was also a buzz off the ice at the 44th annual Little Native Hockey League Tournament in Mississauga.
That’s because a pair of former Canadian national team women’s players, Cheryl Pounder and Becky Kellar, were in attendance, at the Hershey Centre, one of the facilities being utilized during the tournament, which continues until Thursday.
Officials from the Anishinabek Educational Institute (AEI) invited the pair to the event, which is often simply called the Little NHL Tournament. Pounder and Kellar stayed for a few hours, showing off some of their Olympic hardware, signing autographs and providing motivational pep talks for tournament participants.
“They’ve been great advocates for the Native community,” said AEI spokesperson Melissa Seamont, adding Pounder and Kellar also led various hockey clinics/self esteem sessions for female players this past October on the M’Chigeeng First Nation.
Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee was also invited to the tournament’s AEI festivities with Pounder and Kellar.
Seamont added the young tournament participants would be inspired simply seeing and listening to the former Canadian team stars.
“Every child that plays hockey has dreams to do something big,” Seamont said. “They are here to provide some inspiration and to show them they can do it too.”
Pounder, who brought along her gold medals from the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, said she enjoys passing on some of her knowledge to young players.
“We’re just trying to give them a little glimpse of what is out there,” said Pounder, who is now 38 and lives in Mississauga.
Besides winning a pair of Olympic gold medals, Pounder’s hardware collection also includes a half dozen medals (five gold, one silver) from women’s world championships.
As for Kellar, a 40-year-old who lives in Burlington, she captured four Olympic medals. She was a member of Canada’s gold medallists in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Plus, she was on the Canadian squad that captured the silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Games, where women’s hockey made its Olympic debut.
Kellar also won four gold medals at world championships.
Kellar enjoys being a role model for younger female players. She herself did not have a similar experience when she was younger.
“You have to remember the first world women’s tournament was only held in 1990,” Kellar said. “So growing up we looked up to the NHLers. It was a bit different for us because we knew we would not be able to play in the NHL.”
A record 178 teams from across Ontario are participating at this year’s Little NHL Tournament.
This marks the third consecutive year the tournament is being held in Mississauga. But a pair of northern Ontario communities, the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation and the Whitefish River First Nation, are serving as the tournament co-hosts.