By Sam Laskaris
Despite the fact she led her team to a silver medal at a national championship, Karen Bell is not happy.
Bell, a member of the Garden River First Nation, served as the head coach for the Ontario girls’ entry at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC).
Bell’s charges were edged 1-0 by Saskatchewan in the gold-medal match of the week-long tournament, which concluded this past Saturday in Mississauga.
“I wanted gold,” Bell said. “And we should have won gold.”
As for the Ontario boys’ squad, it failed to capture any hardware. Manitoba downed Ontario 6-1 in the boys’ bronze-medal matchup. British Columbia blanked Team North (comprised of players from the country’s three territories) 3-0 in the gold-medal contest.
The NAHC annually features Aboriginal players from the Bantam (14-15) and Midget (16-18) age groupings. There were a total of 16 participating clubs (eight female, eight male) at this year’s event.
The Ontario girls’ side had also captured the silver medal in each of the previous two tournaments. Bell was hoping her team would move up a notch and win this year’s event.
“We are losing nine players next year,” Bell said. “This was the third year on the team for those girls. We all had that intent – we were all going to strive to get that gold for this team.”
Though she believes her club held its own against Saskatchewan, Bell also felt it was leery of facing the defending tournament champs.
“Their skill level is really high,” Bell said of the Saskatchewan squad. “And I think the girls were intimidated by that team.”
Bell added while the Saskatchewan side was able to train together for a couple of weeks prior to the NAHC. But because of the vastness of Ontario, that luxury was not available to her team.
“Some of these girls had never met each other until they got on the ice and started playing together,” she said.
One of Bell’s assistant coaches at the NAHC was Ted Nolan, the former National Hockey League player and coach, who also lives on the Garden River First Nation.
“He was a tremendous help and a great mentor to me,” Bell said.
As expected, Nolan commanded respect from the Ontario team members.
“Every time he spoke the girls were alert,” Bell said. “He told us females were easier to coach than boys because they followed directions better.”
The Ontario girls’ roster also featured three players from Garden River. They were goaltender Kirsten Williams as well as Jana Headrick and Britney Zack, who both played defence.
Other Anishinabek player on the squad were Nicole Rogers (Kettle and Stoney Point), Lily George (Nipissing), Katreena Whiteye (Delaware), Melanie Young (Dokis), Shawnah Albert (Chippewas of the Thames), Cailen Hanzlik (Nipissing), Deidre Debassige (M’Chigeeng), goaltender Gillian Tijernia (Garden River) and Bailey Chenier (Michipicoten).
Other Anishinabek connections on the team included assistant coach Marian Jacko (Wikwemikong) and general manager Gloria Hendrick-Laliberte (Chippewas of the Thames).