Revised - The Kilrich Yukon Native Hockey Tournament has been cancelled for the third straight year.
The event had been scheduled to take place March 25-27 at the Takhini Arena and the Canada Games Centre.
Registration normally opens Feb. 1. 43 teams were registered for the 2020 tournament. Teams registered for that tourney would have been given right of first refusal to re-register for the 2022 tournament.
According to Michelle Dawson-Beattie, the Yukon First Nations Hockey Association president, the decision to cancel the tourney was made about a week prior to a press release announcing the decision on Dec. 27.
“We sat down and talked about it as a board,” she said Tuesday.
“I had some discussions with the acting chief medical officer’s office. I was hoping to talk to Yukon Government about any sort of relief funding, but with Omicron how it was just a couple weeks ago, and there being so much uncertainly ... it was the best decision we could make, trying to keep everybody in our communities safe.”
“It was a board decision. We didn’t discuss it with CYFN, just knowing a lot of the different First Nation governments ... where they stand with COVID, keeping their community safe, we just made the decision ourselves.”
Dawson-Beattie said costs were a big factor in the board’s decision.
“If there was no financial relief, like if we started spending money and paying for things, and booking stuff, if we weren’t able to get reimbursed, we would essentially probably go bankrupt.”
Ice fees alone are $40,000 for the weekend.
“A lot of our fundraising has been impacted,” Dawson-Beattie said.
“We normally have three bingos a year ... all of the proceeds from the bingos go to our ice fees.”
The recent restrictions on gathering sizes also had an impact.
“With the current restrictions on gathering sizes, we wouldn’t be able to host it with teams, like, no spectators ... there’s a huge financial cost if we were to host it. If we had to do rapid tests for everyone that comes in and out of the rinks, that’s very costly.
“We’re a not-for-profit association and a volunteer board, and we just don’t have those type of funds available,” added Dawson-Beattie.
“When we had to cancel it the first time, we had to cancel it like at the eleventh hour – I think it was a week or two weeks before the actual tournament. We were able to recoup some of those costs.”
An economic impact study done a few years ago by the board of directors showed the impact for the Yukon to be approximately $1.7 million, and $1.2 million for Whitehorse.
“That didn’t take into account vehicles bought, Skidoos bought, four-wheelers, those type of things. There’s no way to track that,” added Dawson-Beattie.
When asked if there any circumstances under which it would be reinstated, Dawson-Beattie replied “it’s a done deal for the spring. The ice goes out in March. Our tournament is usually the last event at the rinks.”
Not surprisingly, there has been a reaction to the news of the cancellation.
“We got a lot of people saying ‘why don’t you make it only Yukon teams and only Yukon players?’” stated Dawson-Beattie. “Well you still have a high number of people coming in to gather, to play hockey, and it wouldn’t be the same Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. It would be a different variation from what we normally host ... there’s no way we can ensure that we can keep the communities who don’t have the health care capacities that even Whitehorse has safe. Elders are our main concern. We just didn’t want to overwhelm any health care system in any Yukon community
or remote community.”
She said it’s frustrating to have to cancel the big event for the third year in a row.
“It was a very hard decision to make. A month ago, it looked like it would be completely possible, but given that since Dec. 31, ‘til – I think it was yesterday – there was 158 new COVID cases. There’s just so much uncertainty.
“Who knows what it might be like in March? Maybe things will be different. Maybe we could have been able to have it, but the financial impact it would have had on a small association like ours would be significant ... it was a tough
decision to make,” she said.
“We were all pretty sad, because a month ago it looked like everything would have been possible.
“We needed to make the decision sooner rather than later,” Dawson-Beattie added.
“To plan a tournament of this size and this calibre, it takes a few months. We normally start planning early December, and so we were already in the middle of December.
“A decision had to be made, and with all the uncertainly of everything that’s going on in the world, it just did not seem responsible for us to move forward with it.”
As for the possibility of holding the event next year, “finger’s crossed ... that we’ll definitely be able to have it,” said Dawson-Beattie.
“And we are looking at hosting our hockey camp in July, which has also been canceled for the last two years. It’s a lot smaller, there’s no spectators, we’ll have to do things a little bit differently than we normally do, but, it should be
manageable for sure.”
The hockey camp is the Northwestel and Yukon First Nation’s Hockey Association’s Learning to Lead Hockey Camp.
“We’ll typically bring up a motivational speaker, but we’ll also bring up an Indigenous hockey player who’s either in the NHL or somewhere of that caliber.”
Past players attending include Michael Ferland of the Vancouver Canucks and Troy Stecher of the Detroit Red Wings, and former NHL’er Jordan Tootoo.
“It’s been really well-attended and we have tons of kids from the age of 5-17,” said Dawson-Beattie.
“We know everybody misses having the hockey tournament,” added Dawson-Beattie. “We miss it too. We miss seeing everybody, but we just wanted to safeguard the health and well-being of the communities here in the Yukon and – just the uncertainty with the pandemic, it just wasn’t responsible of us to move forward with it and hopefully in 2023 we can see everybody again and this whole pandemic will be behind us.”