In a hockey rink far, far away, two hockey players from Squamish were named Best Goalie in their divisions.
Xavier Charbonneau and Jacob Donner played in the 42nd annual Yukon Native Hockey Tournament after a scout invited them to play for Tahltan Selects teams. Teams are allowed to have two non-native players each.
Roland Rudkowsky, a scout for the Tahltan First Nation, lives in Squamish and has been helping their teams find players for several years. While he is a member of the Gwich’in Nation in the North West Territories, Rudkowsky played hockey with members of the Tahltan Nation when he was growing up in Cassiar. He even played in the Yukon Native Hockey Tournament himself, when he was 20 years old.
Rudkowsky said the town that hosts the annual tournament grows by 10,000 people while the games are being played. The anticipation builds as the six divisions sell out seats to their games immediately, he added. The tournament draws people from all over to celebrate the sport and the connections they’ve made through it.
“For me, it's like going to a reunion,” Rudkowsky said of the tournament. “I probably know easily 700 people when I go.”
For the Squamish hockey players, Rudkowsky said playing in the Yukon “exposes these players to the type of hockey played up there. It's very fast-paced, very competitive and it's predominantly First Nations people. And it goes to the Yukon. There are a lot of beautiful places to visit up there and the people are amazing.”
At the end of the tournament, Charbonneau and Donner were both named the best goalie in their divisions. Out of eight teams, the honour is based on their performance and attitude.
“That’s a pretty cool accolade,” Rudkowsky said.
He’s already keeping an eye on Squamish for players to send to the Yukon Native Hockey Tournament next year.