hay river floorball

Helping hockey in Hay River

When an N.W.T. community lost its arena, the Hockey Canada Foundation stepped in with a solution that kept the game alive

Kelsey Chadwick
February 8, 2017

Like so many other Canadian towns, the arena in Hay River, N.W.T., is usually a hub of activity during the long winter months. But when the facility – part of the Don Stewart Recreation Centre – started to deteriorate, town council made a difficult decision: tear it down and rebuild.

The rec centre started to come down in July, meaning the town would be without its arena and curling club, long with a community hall, for upwards of 18 months, if not longer.

The latest update from the company responsible for the new facility says December 2017 or January 2018 is a realistic timeframe to have the building up and running.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s something we are trying to make the best of,” Pennie Pokiak, president of the Hay River Minor Hockey Association, said of the lack of a rink.

But there is still hockey in Hay River this winter.

The town decided to go back to the basics, constructing two outdoor rinks. But with an average temperature of -20°C during the hockey season in Hay River, running a normal schedule was not exactly ideal.

To add another piece to a growing puzzle, Hay River, like many northern towns, is relatively isolated, with the closest indoor rink up to 90 minutes away. So it was up to the MHA to think outside the box.

Enter floorball.

According to , floorball is a fast and exciting game that promotes end-to-end plays with quick transitions and fluid game play. The rules stress the importance of safety and sportsmanship and are designed to limit the chance of injury without decreasing the speed or skill of the game.

That sounded perfect to the HRMHA.

“We ordered floorball equipment for all of our divisions, and Hockey Canada [and the Hockey Canada Foundation] was great enough to cover half of the cost,” said Pokiak.

“It seems to be working really well; each division has two practices a week, we’ve got kids from Initiation to Midget, [and] everyone is really, really enjoying it.”

From a Hockey Canada Foundation perspective, it’s all about accessibility to hockey.

“Every Canadian deserves the chance to play the game, and our mission is to make sure everyone gets the chance,” said Donna Iampieri, executive director of the Foundation. “When we heard Hay River was without a rink, we knew we had to step in and help out however we could.”

Nancy Stanley has been coaching minor hockey in Hay River for four years, and says that while the lack of ice does hinder her young Novice players from improving their skating skills, floorball allows them to focus on other aspects of the game.

“A lot of them prefer [floorball] because at their age they are struggling with skating, and if you are struggling with skating, then it’s harder to play,” explained Stanley. “Now they can focus on just playing, not the skating part of it.”

Hay River is the second largest minor hockey association in the Northwest Territories, and Pokiak admits there was a concern registration numbers would drop with no arena.

But with the HRMHA taking care of the gym rental fee and the floorball equipment already provided, fees were essentially eliminated, and enrollment remained strong.

“I don’t think we’ve lost any players,” Pokiak says. “If anything we’ve gained some players just because this seems to be more of a sport for all. It’s great exercise and it’s keeping everyone interested in hockey and the kids are having a lot of fun.”

With registration numbers steady, Pokiak is optimistic for the future of hockey in Hay River. That’s especially important now, with 2018 set to be a big year; not only will the town of 3,600 open its new arena, but it will co-host the Arctic Winter Games (with neighbouring Fort Smith) in March.

“It’s a pretty big honour and privilege to have the Games being hosted [in Hay River],” said Pokiak. “So this season and next it is even more important to keep the kids skill level up because every kid wants to make that team and be able to play in their hometown.”

The Arctic Winter Games are held every two years and are a chance for athletes from the N.W.T. to compete not only against other northern territories like Nunavut and the Yukon, but also international teams from Greenland, Alaska and Northern Russia.

“We have some kids that are definitely higher-skilled players, but then we have some kids that are were right on the cusp of going from the middle of the pack to becoming one of the more skilled players,” Pokiak said. “Those kids really do not want to lose any skills this season.”

With hockey culture strong in Hay River, some of the adult leagues in town have shown an interest in trying floorball as an option to get their hockey fix.

Pokiak is just grateful her community is remaining active during a long northern winter.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for us and I’m glad the Hockey Canada Foundation was able to help us out. I’d really like to see floorball play a bigger role in the Northwest Territories going forward.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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