This coming fall, junior B hockey will be returning to Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) for the first time in 15 years, since the NCN Flames are set to compete in the Keystone Junior Hockey League (KJHL) for the 2019-20 season.
While the league initially made this announcement back in May, team representatives doled out more information during a pair of recent public meet-and-greets in Nelson House (July 18) and Thompson (July 22).
Not only did they get to showcase the Flames’ new logo and jersey, but head coach Cody Genaille also revealed that the team wants to play home games at both NCN’s Gilbert McDonald Arena and the Thompson Regional Community Centre.
“There are a lot of band members from NCN who are in the community of Thompson as well,” he told the Thompson Citizen Aug. 1. “So we really want to get to the youth in both communities. That’s our goal.”
Genaille went on to say that the team is also interested in recruiting players from other surrounding communities like Gillam, Split Lake, Wabowden, Snow Lake and Leaf Rapids.
The junior B NCN Flames originally competed in the now defunct Northwest Junior Hockey League, which ran from 1992 to 2004.
Even though the Nelson House team picked up a pair of championships in 2002 and 2003, Flames governor Lou Moodie said they couldn’t find a new home in the wake of the league’s closure, leaving local youth no choice but to play for rival junior B clubs in Norway House and Cross Lake instead.
However, now that the KJHL is under new management, Moodie believes that the time is right to bring the program back and offer the local youth a place to compete once they are too old for U18 hockey.
“We wanted them to have something closer to home,” he said. “We want to prolong their ability to stay closer to family and stay closer to the coaches that are here to help them develop through the whole process and hopefully get stronger and stronger as the years progress.”
Moodie also mentioned that this program will primarily focus on skill development in an attempt to shake the rough reputation that NCN junior B hockey received in the past.
“They called it the ‘Jungle B League,’” he said. “Well, we’re going to change that image. We’re going to give each one of our children that goes through our franchise the opportunity to go forward and further through skill development, not through their fists.”
NCN Flames general manager James Warren said the team still has to finalize a lot of administrative details before their upcoming selection camp, which is running Sept. 12-15.
And while all that paperwork does seem daunting, Warren is motivated by the fact that the desire to play and watch junior B hockey in NCN didn’t disappear over the last 15 years.
“That’s what we meant by ‘reignite the flame.’ Because it was never out. It was merely flickering,” he said. “And for us to bring it back, and to have a team in the KJHL, that means a lot to our community.”
During the upcoming KJHL regular season, the NCN Flames will be facing off against the Cross Lake Islanders, Norway House North Stars, OCN Storm and Peguis Juniors.
To find out more information about how to join the team, please contact Warren (204-939-3682) or Genaille (204-307-6496).