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Connection and culture: Little Native Hockey League creates memories to last a lifetime

By Stacey Solomon (edited by Kristen Lipscombe)


MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- The Little Native Hockey League (Little NHL) made its return after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Little NHL Tournament, or Little NHL as it is more commonly referred to, is an annual hockey tournament held for Indigenous youth throughout Ontario during the March break. I had the pleasure of attending and coaching the tournament this year. The event featured over 140 teams, more than 2,400 youth between the ages of five and 17, and over 3,000 attendees filling the arenas in Mississauga, Ont.


This year, 2023, was the 49th annual LNHL. Nippissing First Nation hosted the event that was held in Mississauga. Over 480 games were played in four days, in divisions that ranged from under-seven to under-18 for boys and girls.


The Little Native Hockey League logo (Courtesy of LNHL).
The Little Native Hockey League logo (Courtesy of LNHL).

From the opening ceremonies, to all the games, vendors, workshops, medal ceremonies, and memories made, the 49th Annual LNHL was a huge success.


The opening ceremonies incorporated smudging by Elders, drumming, dancing from Nippissing youth including Jingle, Fancy Shawl, Traditional, and Grass, and to top it off an emotional rendition of O’Canada, sung completely in Ojibway from a youth class in Nippissing. Hearing the national anthem in the language brought tears to my eyes and set the stage for an amazing week of hockey!


I wished to catch more games than I did, as I was the assistant coach to Grant Syrette for the Garden River Braves U18 Midget boys team. We had a mixed team of boys and girls ranging in age from 15 through 17 years old.


The kids played their hearts out all week and fell short in the C final. Our bench was short, our goalie stood on his head, and our players left everything on the ice.


Personally, it was amazing to see how well our four girls played with the boys. We had one player who only ever played girls' hockey; this was her first time playing with boys and she had an amazing tournament.


She was strong on the D -ine and held her own against the other teams. There were times in the games when our defence was our girls, and the other teams felt they could take advantage of that, but the strength, speed, and agility of our girls surprised the opponents.


I was also able to catch some of the girls' games, as I had a niece playing in her final LNHL tournament. Her team skated away with a gold medal in the U18 Midget girls division. A fitting way to end her LNHL career.

The Little Native Hockey League pledge (courtesy of LNHL).
The Little Native Hockey League pledge (courtesy of LNHL).

For these players, coaches, and families, that special week was about so much more than hockey.


These tournaments are about connection, friendship, laughter, culture, experience, and yes, it is also about the good ol' hockey game. This tournament is about playing for the logo on on the front of the jerseys, and not the individual names and numbers on the back of those jerseys. It is about seeing the little kids in their first games laughing and waving at their parents in the stands. It is about the exhilaration of an overtime win, and the bittersweet final game as a player.


The children walk into opening ceremonies with so much hope and excitement, and walk away with memories that last a lifetime and stories we can tell to our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends.


After a three year hiatus, everyone was just so happy to be back at the LNHL and are already excited to come back next year. We cannot wait to see what the 50th Little Native Hockey League has in store!


For more information on the LNHL, please visit: http://www.lnhl.ca/

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