Sara Morrison was disappointed a new rule prevented her from participating in this year’s National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC).
Morrison, however, was still able to win a gold medal at the national tournament, which was staged May 7 to May 12 in Saskatoon.
Morrison was originally hoping to play for the Quebec-based Eastern Door and the North (EDN) squad at the national tournament. She had toiled for the EDN team at three previous NAHC.
But a tournament rule implemented this year stipulates no club can have a player that also toils for a Canadian or American university squad. Morrison played this past season with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Once EDN head coach Patrice Dominique broke the news to Morrison that she would not be allowed to play at the NAHC, he asked her if she would consider helping out as an assistant coach.
“I said yes right away,” Morrison said.
This decision proved to be a meaningful one for Morrison. She helped guide the EDN side to a gold medal at the tournament, which featured eight female and eight male teams.
The EDN girls’ club edged host Saskatchewan 3-2 in its championship final.
Saskatchewan, however, won its fifth straight title in the boys’ division. It defeated Alberta 5-1 in its gold-medal contest.
Morrison said she was upset when she found out this past February that she would not be allowed to compete in the NAHC. But now she is glad she was still a part of the tournament.
“It was a great experience to take it to the gold-medal game and win it,” said Morrison, a Cree from Quebec’s Wemindji First Nation. “I was pretty happy and proud. It still means a great deal to me.”
The girls’ division at the NAHC is for bantam (14- and 15-year-olds) and midget (16-17) players. Each team, however, is also allowed to carry a maximum of four overage players (those born in 1992 or ’93).
The boys’ category though was restricted to midget-aged players.
Morrison, who turned 20 in April, was originally hoping to be one of EDN’s overage players, until she found out about the rule banning university players.
Despite being a left winger with the Gee-Gees, Morrison handled the EDN defence at the NAHC. Her 18-year-old sister Dana was one of the players on EDN’s defence.
Morrison was the only assistant coach on the team.
So is coaching something she might want to pursue now?
“I think so,” she said. “I would like to do it again, especially with this EDN team.”
The EDN squad actually got off to a lousy start at this year’s national tournament, dropping its opening game 7-1 to Alberta.
“After that we had a talk with the girls and told them to follow the game plan we wanted them to have,” Dominique said.
The players obviously listened to those words. That’s because EDN did not suffer a loss after that for the rest of the tournament.
EDN wrapped up its round-robin action with convincing 9-0 and 7-2 victories over the Northwest Territories and Ontario, respectively.
EDN continued to steamroll over opponents, registering a 7-1 win over British Columbia in its quarter-final tilt.
And the club then earned a berth into the gold-medal match by defeating Alberta 4-2 in its semi-final battle. Besides avenging its opening round-robin loss to Alberta, this result moved EDN into the championship final and guaranteed the club would at least match its silver-medal performance at the 2011 NAHC, also staged in Saskatoon.
Unlike last year when Saskatchewan pulled out a 7-3 victory in the final, EDN managed to come out on top this time around.
Meanwhile, not too many people were surprised to see Saskatchewan emerge victorious once again in the boys’ division.
“This one was great because we were able to complete our Drive For Five,” said Courage Bear, an assistant coach with the team. “That was our goal. Not that it’s not our goal every year to win it.”
The Saskatchewan side won all six of its matches at this year’s tournament.
For starters, it registered round-robin wins over British Columbia, Manitoba and Team Atlantic. That was followed by an 8-0 victory over the Northwest Territories in a quarter-final match. And Saskatchewan earned a berth into the gold-medal match again thanks to a 5-3 triumph over Manitoba in their semi-final contest.
Bear believes the fact an increasing amount of Saskatchewan players are suiting up for squads at elite levels has contributed to the team’s dominance at the NAHC in recent years.
“We have more and more kids playing at a high level,” he said. “We’ve built the program (to a point) where they care and they want to be a part of it.”