Long Lake #58’s Demi Abraham, yellow jersey with red socks, tries out for Aboriginal Team Ontario’s girls team on Jan. 29 at Fort William First Nation Arena for the upcoming 2017 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.

By Rick Garrick

FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION—Long Lake #58’s Demi Abraham enjoyed participating in the Aboriginal Team Ontario (ATO) hockey tryout on Jan. 29 at the Fort William First Nation Arena.

“It was exciting,” Abraham says, noting it was her first tryout for the team. “I’ve got a shot at going for the Ontario hockey team, so it was pretty cool.”

The players who make the girls team will represent Ontario at the 2017 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in May at Cowichan, British Columbia. The girls team won silver at the last three National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.

“I think that would be a cool experience,” Abraham says. “Hopefully I get on the team.”

Abraham currently plays defense for the South End Junior Stars Bantam A boys team in Thunder Bay.

She first began playing hockey when she was four-years-old and enjoys meeting new people through the sport.

“And just getting the chance to play hockey is what I love about it,” Abraham says.

Abraham’s father, Wendell Abraham, says it was good to see all of the girls who tried out for the team.

“It is a good experience for her and a good experience for all these girls to come out here to see what they have to do,” Wendell says. “From what I have seen right now, there is some pretty good talent.”

Abraham was one of about 25 Indigenous girls from across northern Ontario who participated in the ATO tryouts. ATO partnered with the Lakehead University Thunderwolves, who ran the tryouts for the boys and girls players.

“They play at different levels; house league to those AA teams—the travelling teams,” says Gloria Hendrick-Laliberte, general manager for Aboriginal Team Ontario female and Chippewas of the Thames citizen. “Some of the girls play boys hockey. Some of them just come out for a skate to see what it’s like to try out.”

Hendrick-Laliberte says the Girls team’s goal is to win the gold at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.

“Every year we are always hoping for the gold,” Hendrick-Laliberte says.

About 38 boys tried out for the Boys team during the tryouts.

“It went really well,” Hendrick-Laliberte says. “There was so many skaters, so much talent. We had the same as the Girls team, a diverse group of skaters, players who play for the Thunder Bay Kings, players from Fort Frances and Kenora, Nipigon, Pic River, Long Lake #58.”

Marc Laliberte, president of Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario, says the Boys team used to be “perennial gold medal winners.”

“But it’s tough — their competition has got much more fierce,” Laliberte says.

ATO previously held hockey tryouts in Sudbury and Guelph. A prospects tryout is also scheduled for the upcoming Little NHL tournament.

“These tryouts have been really helpful for me to identify where the talent is,” says Wes Marsden Jr., general manager for Aboriginal Team Ontario boys hockey and Alderville citizen. “Because of the cost of hockey, you don’t always find the good player in a AAA system.”

Marsden says the Boys team is in a rebuild year due to the loss of 12 players.

“Kids age out, so we are really feeling it this year for the boys,” Marsden says. “A lot of our talent aged out after last year’s tournament.”

Marsden says the Boys team finished in fifth place two years ago and lost the bronze medal game last year.

“I’m hoping to take another step,” Marsden says. “Obviously it would be great for the boys to come home with a medal.”