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Assist Fund in Action: Fatema Alashmouti

After coming to Canada as a refugee and with help from the Hockey Canada Foundation Assist Fund, the 12-year-old is captain of her team in only her first year of hockey

Nicholas Pescod
|
March 20, 2023

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of playing hockey was almost unfathomable for Fatema Alashmouti.

That’s because Fatema was born in Syria and came to Canada as a refugee with her family in 2016 after being forced to flee due to the outbreak of civil war.

“I was really young, so I don’t remember much from that time,” she says.

Fast-forward a few years and the 12-year-old defenceman is the captain of her house league team in Brantford, Ont.

“I am very happy,” she says.

Fatema’s pathway into league hockey began just a few years ago.

“They were having swimming classes at [the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre] and we would go after the class sometimes and watch the hockey games. I found the sport really interesting,” explains Fatema’s mother, Muna Ghayth. “I had seen it on TV of course and on the internet back home in Syria but never had watched it in person and it really interested me.”

That interest led Muna to enroll Fatema and her two younger sisters in the NHL/NHLAPA First Shift program.

“At the beginning, I didn’t know if they were going to like it or not,” Muna says. “But, I saw that from the beginning Fatema was really interested in it.”

Following the completion of the First Shift program, all three girls were enrolled in the Transition Program — often referred to as Second Shift — offered by their local hockey association. Second Shift builds on the skills participants learned during the First Shift program and prepares them for potential entry into minor hockey.

“By the end of the Second Shift, my middle and youngest daughter they don't want to do it anymore, but Fatema liked it,” recalls Muna.

In fact, Fatema liked it so much that she was enrolled in house league hockey for the 2022-23 season, joining the Brantford U15 Ice Cats of the Greater Hamilton Girls Hockey League.

"I knew that I really wanted to play hockey but was not sure if I would join a team because my skills weren't that strong,” says Fatema.

Playing hockey has taught her leadership and other valuable life skills.

“It has helped me communicate with people a lot better,” says Fatema. “I am better able to listen to their side.”

Muna says she has noticed the positive impact hockey has had on her daughter.

“She’s a really good team player and she learned how to be a part of the team,” says Muna. “She has used her leadership skills to encourage her teammates. When they lose, she is always giving the team motivation.”

Those leadership skills haven’t gone unnoticed by her coaches and teammates, who named her captain.

“It means a lot,” says Fatema.

Fatema Alashmouti

To help make Fatema’s hockey pursuit a reality, Muna turned to the Hockey Canada Foundation Assist Fund, a program that provides $500 subsidies to help parents cover registration fees.

"I really appreciate the support from [Hockey Canada Foundation]. It really helped us to help others because as I say, I'm from Syria, and I still have family there," says Muna. "It is a difficult financial situation for us here because I need to help some people back home in Syria. So, the support has helped us not be under so much pressure, which is really great."

Muna says she is extremely proud of Fatema’s success and has no qualms about her involvement in hockey.

“I really want my kids to be a productive part of the community … and sometimes people would say ‘Oh, hockey for Canadians’ and I would say ‘Oh, we are Canadian and hockey for everyone.’ I didn’t see too many of my friends here encouraging their kids to play hockey, but I tried my best to encourage my kids,” she says. “I feel really good and proud that Fatema is doing something she really enjoys.”

Embracing a new life through hockey

Bridget Vales had never heard of hockey until she moved from the Philippines to Saskatchewan; now she can’t get enough of Canada’s game

Katie Brickman
|
May 24, 2024

Bridget Vales got her first taste of hockey when she went to her stepbrother’s practice shortly after she moved from the Philippines to White City, Saskatchewan, when she was eight years old, and pretty quickly she was interested in trying it out herself.

That first experience didn’t go as expected.

“It was tough,” Bridget, now 14, says. “It was embarrassing for me [at the beginning] because when I went to the tryouts, I didn’t know how to skate. I cried at the rink because everyone was better than me.”

In the end, she made the team and got better every game. The next season, when she was nine years old, she made the ‘B’ team with the Prairie Storm Minor Hockey Association and worked hard to improve her skating and skills.

“I felt happy with how much I improved in hockey,” she says. “But the transition was difficult.”

Bridget comes by the passion of the game naturally. Her mom, Reynilda Vales, quickly fell in love with hockey after moving to Canada from the Philippines on a work visa as a midwife in April 2015. She couldn’t bring any family members at that time, but after two years, she got her Canadian permanent residency and was able to bring Bridget to Regina in 2018. Her employer at the time introduced her to hockey and the love affair began.

“It was my plan to put Bridget in hockey. I am crazy about hockey. I am loud with my intense cheering … I am crazy at the rink,” Reynilda says. “Being from the Philippines, it’s very warm, but when the kids are playing hockey, I don’t care about the cold.”

Growing up in the Philippines, Bridget focused on school and didn’t play any sports. Since moving to Canada, she has embraced her athletic side and participates in hockey, baseball, lacrosse, badminton, volleyball and track. Hockey, though, is her favourite.

“I love to play games and meet new teammates. My favourite part is skating and hitting,” she says. “Hockey is my favourite sport because it just gives me so much joy and excitement. I just love playing it because it’s such a fun sport.”

Hockey is just one of the ways Bridget came to better understand life in Canada. Not only is she able to meet new people and create friendships, but it has also helped her transition to a new life with a different culture, climate, food, language and school.

“I’m glad Canadians love to play hockey. It’s fun learning about hockey because it’s a fun sport to play and watch,” she says. “I feel accepted because I’m in a sport and hockey has been able to give me a team where you feel like you are a part of something bigger.”

Reynilda has been an influence for Bridget in life – helping her navigate coming to a new city and new country, and setting up a new life.

“It’s easy for me to guide my daughter because I came here first and I encountered the same feedback about our culture,” says Reynilda. “Hockey is a part of our lives now. It keeps us busy, and it helps us to focus on the kids’ well-being. It’s just our day-to-day life now.”

It’s not easy making a major life change and moving to another country, but hockey has been valuable in making things easier. The comments Reynilda gets now, it shows how much Bridget has grown.

“The parents now ask if Bridget grew up here because of the way she skates … she doesn’t look like she just started playing hockey,” says Reynilda. “The progress has been unbelievable. I think it’s because hockey is in her heart. She loves it.”

Reynilda and Bridget have fully embraced the Canadian way of life – from learning to ice fish to hockey – but they also share their culture with others.

“I used to be embarrassed because I was different, but now when people find out I’m Filipino, they are interested in finding out more about me and my culture; they want to know my language,” Bridget says. “That makes me happy to share who I am. Hockey has made me feel like everyone else and I feel at home.”

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Centennial Cup at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ontario

11 days in Oakville, by the numbers

A facts-and-figures look at the 2024 Centennial Cup, on and off the ice

Shannon Coulter
|
May 19, 2024

From 117 teams down to two, either the Collingwood Blues or the Melfort Mustangs will be lifting the Centennial Cup.

As we prepare to crown Canada’s national Junior A champions, let’s look back at the 2024 Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, by the numbers.

3 – Shutouts through the semifinals; Collingwood’s Noak Pak (against Longueuil), Winkler’s Malachi Klassen (against Oakville) and Greater Sudbury’s Noah Beaulne (against Longueuil) all earned clean sheets.

7 – Days between when the Miramichi Timberwolves won the MHL championship to qualify for the Centennial Cup and their first game of the tournament.

16 – Officials who worked the Centennial Cup. The crew had a wide representation from across the country, from Edmonton, Alberta, to Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia.

29 – Shootout attempts by players; the Melfort Mustangs, Calgary Canucks and Miramichi Timberwolves each earned shootout victories in the preliminary round, with none going past the required five rounds.

40 – Days between the conclusion of the host Oakville Blades’ playoff run and their first game of the tournament, the longest break of any competing team (the Calgary Canucks had the second-longest at 22 days).

49 – Power play goals scored through the semifinals. Spencer Young and Cody Pisarczyk lead the tournament with three power play goals each.

141 – Media interviews conducted through the semifinals. This includes broadcast interviews for the HockeyCanada.ca livestream, accredited media from the CJHL and Hockey Canada feature stories.

120 – Volunteers to help the tournament run behind the scenes, including off-ice officials, team services and transportation.

121 – Canadians who attended their first hockey game through the Tim Hortons Families First Faceoff Initative. The families were treated to Hockey Canada swag and centre-ice tickets, and enjoyed Tim Hortons after the game.

150 – Members of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies who attended the preliminary-round game between the Sioux Lookout Bombers and Melfort Mustangs in honour of Children and Youth in Care Day, celebrated on May 14.

167 – Goals scored through the semifinals. Miramichi Timberwolves’ Elliot Robert had seven goals in six games for the most goals by one player.

377 – Accreditations issued for team personnel.

678 – Pucks used through the semifinals.

1,455 – Minutes of hockey played through the semifinals. Only three games went beyond 60 minutes – Melfort vs. Winkler, Calgary vs. Navan and Miramichi vs. Winkler all required shootouts to decide a winner.

1,440 – Bottles of Gatorade consumed by the 10 teams.

1,497 – Students and staff that cheered on teams during the five school-day games.

9,204 – Kilometres travelled by all teams to Oakville (according to Google Maps). The shortest distance travelled was by the Collingwood Blues, who are 124.6 km away, while the Calgary Canucks travelled 2700.5 km to compete.

39,423 – Photos taken by Hockey Canada Images photographers Heather Pollock and Lori Bolliger through the semifinals. They included on-ice action, player headshots, behind-the-scenes exclusives and partner activations.

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Molinaro gets his moment

After getting a taste of the Centennial Cup last season, albeit from the sidelines, Julian Molinaro has backstopped the Calgary Canucks to the National Junior A Championship

Jason La Rose
|
May 17, 2024

One year ago, Julian Molinaro watched every second of the Centennial Cup from the bench.

In fact, the goaltender didn’t see the ice at all in the Collingwood Blues’ run to the quarterfinals of Canada’s National Junior A Championship, serving as backup as Noah Pak played every second of the Blues’ 24 postseason games.

But this season, it’s a much different story.

One thing has remained the same, though—Molinaro is back at the national championship. He’s just got a much more active role, stopping pucks for the Calgary Canucks as they chase a national title.

And since the hockey gods work in mysterious ways, it was fitting that when Molinaro and the Canucks hit the ice for their first game on May 9, it was Pak standing in the crease at the other end.

Neither goaltender will be adding that game to their personal highlight reel—Molinaro allowed five goals on 26 shots, while Pak surrendered four for just the sixth time in 62 starts as the Canucks dropped a 5-4 decision in a game dominated by special teams.

“Before [the game], I walked into the rink and I saw the Collingwood equipment manager, Richard Judges. So it was kind of crazy,” Molinaro says of seeing familiar faces. “Once I got on the ice, it was so weird playing against Noah and [Mark] McIntosh, [Spencer] Young, all those guys. Obviously, I didn't have my best [game]. Probably one of my worst games of the year, but it's all right. We'll see them again, hopefully.”

When the 2022-23 season ended for Collingwood with its 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Jr. Senators in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, so too did Molinaro’s time as a Blue. He was terrific as a backup, fashioning a 2.33 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 20 appearances, but with Pak set to return for a final Junior A season, Molinaro was ready for a change, and an opportunity to be a starter.

Enter Canucks head coach and general manager Brad Moran, who officially acquired the goaltender on July 11.

“I know he didn't play in the playoffs, but he had been through the experience,” Moran says of Molinaro’s time in Collingwood, “and to come through a winning team in a playoffs where you don't play, but have your teammates, coaches and everyone else commending you for the attitude [and] the effort was something that definitely opened our eyes.”

The Mississauga, Ontario, native was even better than advertised, leading all Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) puck-stoppers with 27 wins and six shutouts, and finishing third with a 2.60 GAA and .916 save percentage.

He then won 12 of his 15 postseason starts with terrific numbers (2.56 GAA, .908 SV%), backstopping the Canucks to their first AJHL championship since 1999 and their first trip to the Centennial Cup since they won their lone national title in 1995.

“Deep down I knew I could [be a starter], but you don't actually know until you do it,” Molinaro says. “And once I got the chance and the opportunity to run with things and Brad gave me the ball, I think I really got in the groove and it helped me a lot. It's a great feeling, knowing you have the whole staff and team behind you.”

“He came in, he was the top goalie in our league this year in my mind, and gave us a chance to win every night,” Moran adds. “He pushed our guys on and off the ice, and that's what we want.”

Two days after the Canucks finished their sweep of the Whitecourt Wolverines to win the AJHL title, Molinaro officially committed to Northern Michigan University, where he’ll join the Wildcats this fall.

It’s been nothing but success for the 20-year-old, and no one is happier for him than his former partner.

“He's got an unreal work ethic, one of the hardest working guys I know,” Pak says. “I'm super happy for him and getting his commitment and his success this year… couldn't be happier for him.”

But there’s one more piece of the puzzle that makes this homecoming even more special for Molinaro.

He and his father, Jason, were fixtures at Blades games as Julian grew up, and when the Canucks stepped onto the ice at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex for the first time, Molinaro knew just where to look.

“I almost started crying, because my dad was in the corner where we grew up watching Blades games,” he says. “I've been at this rink since I was seven years old watching the Blades every Friday night, and me and my dad always sat in the same corner, and now to be on the ice and him to be in that corner, I think it's unbelievable. It's really full circle.”

Now all that’s left is the Hollywood ending. The Canucks face the Winkler Flyers in a Friday quarterfinal, with a semifinal date with the Melfort Mustangs awaiting the winner.

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In my own words: Dampy Brar

The coach, mentor, teacher and Willie O’Ree Community Award winner talks about his journey in the game, and the importance of making an impact with the South Asian community

Dampy Brar
|
May 17, 2024

For countless generations, my family lived in Punjab, India. They were honest, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people. Each generation took over the farming and continued the family traditions and lifestyle.

My dad had a different dream for himself and for his future family. A dream to come to Canada and start a new life with new opportunities. But he never imagined that his Canadian dream would include hockey.

At the age of four, I vividly remember sitting on the front step of our townhouse in Sparwood, B.C., the town I was born in, watching a group of older boys play street hockey. I was instantly intrigued. My dad recognized my interest and bought me a plastic hockey stick with a pink blade, yellow shaft and a black rubber knob, which also came with two plastic pucks. I would play non-stop in our undeveloped basement, shooting into a milk crate.

As the hockey season approached, we were fortunate enough to have older East Indian family friends whose boys played minor hockey in Sparwood, so my dad registered me. There was only one problem – I had never been on skates.

I was incredibly lucky to have a great skating instructor; his name was Tander Sandhu, and he was 11 years old. He says it took me 15 minutes in an old pair of his skates that weren’t even my size to start skating on my own. By the age of eight, I was moved up to play with the older kids after scoring 21 goals in two games.

I kept scoring several goals per game, and then early in the season when I was 11 years old, they implemented a rule that players could only score three goals in a game. Even though I was a playmaker and had a lot of assists, it was pretty well-known that this rule was created because of me. In hindsight, it made me an even better passer; however, my family always wonders if that rule was not implemented how much more attention and exposure would I have received in the hockey community.

I was born in Canada, and simply loved the game. I saw all my teammates and their families in the same manner, but not everyone looked at me as an equal. As a kid, perhaps I was oblivious to the looks and comments. The racism piece really came to light when I was eight. After my third goal, a player on the opposing team, who was from a nearby town, yelled something at me several times while I was taking the face-off against him. A word that started with the letter P, but I couldn’t fully understand what he was saying.

After scoring two more goals, he continued yelling the same word at me over and over again. I can still see what he was wearing, his facial expressions and his anger. I remember feeling scared. I didn’t know what I did wrong, and why he was so upset with me. My teammate told me he was saying something really bad about me. Something about how I look. The taunting continued, but I managed to focus on playing the game and having fun. After finishing the game with 13 goals, he shook my hand and said the word ‘Paki’ yet again, right to my face.

All weekend the incident rolled through my mind. On Monday morning at recess, I asked my older East Indian friend, who also played hockey, what ‘Paki’ meant. He explained that is what they call us in a negative way to make fun of us. It was a name assigned to me because of the colour of my skin.

I got used to hearing it over the years. However, the worst had to be hearing from a parent when I was 15 years old. Just before the game started, with the arena pretty quiet, the father of the opposing goaltender yelled to his son, “Don’t let that f*cking Paki score!” and then looked straight at me with glaring eyes.

Towards the end of that season, we went to a small town in Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberta. It was a Friday night game, and a bunch of teenagers came to cheer on their home team. Instead of watching the game, they stood away from the parents and threw constant racial slurs at me while making inappropriate gestures.

I have never repeated what they said. But if we want to invoke change, we need to be honest with what was said and done. They were saying things like, “Go back home, Paki,” or “Put curry on the puck, it will slide better,” or “Where is the red dot on your forehead?” Any time I took a face-off in front of them, or simply skated past them, they banged their hands on the glass and tried to scare and intimate me.

We won 6-4 that night. My parents were so happy on the car ride home, as they thought I played well; however, I was quiet and numb. When I got home, I had tears in my eyes and asked my parents, “Who cares about the game, did you not see what was happening?” They told me that if I wanted to be an elite player and represent our culture, it was something I would need to endure. My dad then told me some stories of the racism he had gone through on the streets and in the workforce. He wanted to shield me from it, but sadly he could not.

It was then that I really started to envision that one day I would use hockey to earn respect, and then turn around and help other South Asian players and their families.

I had the goal of playing professional hockey, but as we all know, the path to get there is extremely complicated. With immigrant parents, no mentors and no internet, navigating the hockey system was very difficult. Some how, some way, I made it through Junior B to Junior A and to Concordia University College in Edmonton. But I started to doubt that college hockey was the right decision to get me to my goal.

After a few games, an ex-NHL coach turned agent named Bill Laforge Sr. came to watch us play. He was gracious enough to take me under his wing and send me on my way to play pro hockey in the United States.

In my seven-year career, I played five seasons with the Tacoma Sabercats in the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL), where I had two stand-out coaches: three years with John Olver and two with Robert Dirk, who I coach with now at the Okanagan Hockey Academy.

During this time, I really grew not only as a hockey player, but as a person. I learned the importance of community work and giving back. The city showed me a lot of love in return, which overshadowed any discrimination. I won the WCHL championship with the Sabercats in 1999, played in the WCHL All-Star Game and was voted Most Popular Player by the fans in all five of my seasons.

A few other milestones were getting called up to play in the International Hockey League (IHL) with the Las Vegas Thunder, and the following year, signing a two-way contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League (AHL), an affiliate of my favourite team, the Edmonton Oilers.

I hung up my skates at the end of the 2002-03 season and knew I had to fulfil my other goal of paying it forward and giving back.

When my now-16-year-old son started playing Timbits, I got involved in assisting, educating, mentoring and coaching our South Asian youth and their families. A few years later, I delved deeper into women’s hockey when my daughter started playing. I was lucky enough to help take this internationally when a women’s team from Leh Ladakh, India, came to Canada for the first time to participate in WickFest, run by Team Canada icon Hayley Wickenheiser.

In the end, my passion for the game comes back to providing support and guidance to South Asian and other ethnic players, connecting the community, highlighting players and parents, and spreading information.

It was through my work with the South Asian community that I was honoured in 2020 to receive the Willie O’Ree Community Award, becoming the first South Asian to win an NHL award, which really drove me to continue to make an impact in the diversity and inclusion component of the game.

Already, we see a number of NHL teams recognize the contributions of the South Asian community by holding a South Asian Heritage Night. I have had the privilege of being part of the Honour Guard or dropping the puck for the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

Change is slow, but where there is a will, there is a way. Together we will help improve hockey culture and grow the game we all love. Just like in my hockey journey from the age of four to when I played my last professional game, perseverance and resilience are important factors.

Any road to success will always be under construction.

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Brian’s life behind the bench

Brian Sugiyama has spent the last three decades coaching his kids, his grandkids, other people’s kids, and even other coaches who – much like he does – just want to make the game better

Chris Jurewicz
|
May 13, 2024

When you spend decades doing something you love, you evolve.

Brian Sugiyama has been behind the bench, in the dressing room and on the ice helping kids and young adults become better hockey players and people for the past 30 years.

The 72-year-old Nanaimo, B.C., resident maybe hasn’t seen it all, but he has seen quite a bit, more than most, and has a good sense of what it takes to be a great hockey coach.

“When I first started doing the coaching development stuff, I thought it was more the technical and science of coaching,” says Sugiyama. “Now, I think it’s more the art of coaching, that you’re working with young men and women, sometimes they just graduated from playing minor hockey themselves, sometimes they’re parents. They all seem to think it’s about the Xs and Os and the practices, where I think it’s really more the psychology of coaching, working on childhood development, how kids get along and that you have developed within your team that bonding and that whole area of respect within your teams, respect for your opponents and others involved in the game, like the officials.”

Sugiyama is a member of Hockey Canada’s Coaching Program Delivery Group. He is district coach coordinator for Vancouver Island and clinic facilitator for Coach 1, Coach 2 and Development 1 programs within the National Coach Certification Program, teaching hundreds of new and experienced coaches each year. He is also a High Performance 1 coach mentor and Development 1 coach field evaluator.

To attain those credentials requires time, dedication, experience, patience and an incredibly strong and thorough knowledge of Canada’s game.

Sugiyama has all of those traits.

His journey began, as so many Canadian hockey stories do, on backyard and outdoor rinks. Sugiyama was born and raised in Edmonton and got his start outside when his father built a backyard rink.

As his love of the game grew, so did his skill and commitment. Sugiyama played competitively with the Maple Leaf Athletic Club through his teenage years. He got his start in coaching when he helped out with his younger brother’s team. And then, in the early 1980s, Sugiyama did what so many dads do – get involved in coaching with his own’s son’s team. He and wife Karen have four children and all of them grew up playing hockey.

“I started coaching local recreational divisions at the younger age groups and then you get into wanting to be better as a coach, and you start taking some courses,” says Sugiyama. “I coached a competitive U11 team and you encounter the good, bad and whatever. I still got a lot from it. I thought I could contribute to not only my kids’ development, but other kids as well.”

Later in life, the family moved to Vancouver, where they still reside. And the Sugiyama name is perhaps just as well known in Nanaimo as it is in Edmonton, given the years of service and dedication to hockey given by Brian and the rest of the family.

TJ Fisher helped coach a U15 co-ed recreational team during the 2023-24 season with Brian, one that included one of Sugiyama’s granddaughters and one of Fisher’s kids.

“It’s so neat to see a grandpa coaching grandkids. You never see that,” says Fisher. “It’s one of those things for people my age, it’s like the life goal where you have to keep on evolving with the next generation. He stays current and is totally relatable. He’s really up on technology to be able to be current to both teach his clinics and to stay current with the kids on the team.”

Erin Wilson has also been inspired by Sugiyama. Wilson and Sugiyama coached together during the 2021-22 season and have known one another for close to three decades.

“As both a parent and coach, I really value Brian's focus on fair play and sportsmanship,” says Wilson. “His encouragement of every player to be a contributing part of the team is so valuable and important for individual character development, self-worth and team play. This focus on fair play and sportsmanship is something I try and replicate and is a strong value and focus I believe in when I am coaching a team.”

Sugiyama has been on the bench of competitive and recreational teams and believes there is a gap that will need to be filled on the rec side. Often, there are plenty of moms and dads who want to help out with competitive teams, but a shortage of coaches who want to pitch in on the recreational side.

His impact hasn’t just been felt by regular Canadian moms and dads, though. In recent years, Sugiyama has facilitated and led courses attended by some well-known retired former NHLers who want to give back and coach.

“This last season, I’ve had people like Andrew Ladd and Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith take the courses,” says Sugiyama. “They’re coming back and imparting their knowledge back to a hockey academy or a team in their community. They come back supportive of what Hockey Canada is doing with the development of coaching.”

Sugiyama jokes with his course attendees that he’s “getting long in the tooth,” but continues his involvement and will as long as he can. That’s not only good news for kids on the ice, but the men and women who have a chance to learn from Sugiyama.

“It’s special to see that whole family,” says Fisher. “He’s still coaching, his kids are coaching, the grandkids are playing. It’s pretty awesome.”

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A place to belong

Since 2011, the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association has been creating opportunities – and building Team Canada athletes like Auren Halbert along the way

Lee Boyadjian
|
May 09, 2024

Smiles, laughter and pure joy. The first time getting on the ice for anyone who loves the game quickly becomes a core memory. But for Auren Halbert, it was so much more.

“It was the first time I'd ever had a competitive outlet, and to be among other people with similar disabilities, it was just incredible,” says the 22-year-old, who was born without a femur in his left leg.

Playing at the 2024 World Para Hockey Championship on home ice in Calgary is special for Auren. He played the preliminary round in front a sizeable contingent of family and friends, most with a direct connection to the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association (CSHA), the launching point of his career.

“We've had a great run of Team Canada men’s players that have come through our organization: Cody Dolan, Zach Lavin, Auren and Adam Kingsmill,” says Alan Halbert, president of the CSHA and proud dad to Auren. “But we're not here to build everybody into Team Canada players, we’re here to build people into the best versions of themselves.

“We just want to go out and have fun.”

The CSHA has had a presence in the Stampede City since the 1980s, but has grown from about 20 players to more than 80 since officially incorporating in 2011, with more than 20 coaches and volunteers giving support. There are programs for players of any age, skill and ability level.

Teams are divided by age and skill level, with players under 18 years old making up the junior team (Venom) before graduating to the intermediate team (Stingers), though high-performance athletes may transition through the levels more quickly. The senior team (Scorpions) is the highest level available and competes provincially or even nationally.

The senior team wasn’t always the powerhouse it has developed into, and a decade ago Alan had to learn the sport himself to help with the roster.

“At that time, I was naïve. I was like ‘Can I play? It’s kind of a disability sport.’ But now everybody is in there, it’s so inclusive,” he explains, adding that he has seen teams built as able-bodied friends and family support a loved-one with a disability.

“He started a couple years after I did and at first he was definitely a better player than I was,” Auren says of his dad with a laugh. “That definitely helped with my competitiveness; I just had to prove to my dad that I was a better player than he was.”

While there is no question the younger Halbert has become the stronger of the two, it is the dedication of Alan and his wife, Ashley, to the CSHA that has had a major impact on his own commitment to the game.

“It’s honestly unbelievable the amount of effort [my parents] have put into the organization,” Auren says. “It’s just super awesome to be able to have such good support in the city.

“It’s pretty inspiring to see how passionate [my parents] are about this.”

Alan has held just about every role within the association: athlete, coach, board member and treasurer. He took on the presidency in 2017 but shortly after was relocated to Pittsburgh for work. With no one else interested in the position, he remained at the helm, working remotely long before that was the norm. Seven years later, Alan is still president and continues to look for ways to grow the CSHA.

“We are kind of on the forefront of always trying to expand the sport, not only within Calgary, but we help a lot of the surrounding areas and provinces as well,” Alan explains. “We have a really great rapport with a lot of teams that we were playing as Auren was growing up, and they were just creating their programs… so they wanted to do something and we're there to help them or just to play.”

Auren also remains active with the CSHA, practicing and sometimes playing with the senior team. He also hopes to help with a summer camp this year “just to get out and teach people what I know.”

But first, the young defenceman has to close out his fifth season with Canada’s National Para Hockey Team with his fourth Para Worlds, in the same rink where he saw Team Canada play for the first time 13 years ago.

“In Auren’s first season, we kind of got going, hit the ground running and within a couple of months the World Sledge Hockey Challenge was [in Calgary],” Alan remembers. “I think he ended up on the ice as a flag-bearer, so got really exposed and that fueled his fire from a young age.

“It’s kind of come full circle.”

Auren knows this Para Worlds is his opportunity to create that same drive in a young athlete and bring new fans to the game. And while that motivates his play, he is eager to put on a show for the people who have supported him from the beginning.

“I think it'll be the first time a lot of my family have seen me play at this level, so it’s going to be pretty meaningful to be able to show them all I can do,” Auren says. “To have people I know in the stands and to know that they're all cheering for me and maybe hear a couple chants from them in the crowd… this will definitely be one of the greatest moments of all time for me.”

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Miramichi Timberwolves

Road to the 2024 Centennial Cup: Miramichi Timberwolves

After winning their first-ever league championship, the MHL champions have set their eyes on a national title

Shannon Coulter
|
May 08, 2024

This year’s playoffs are one for the record books for the Miramichi Timberwolves, and now the focus turns to an opportunity to compete for a national title at the 2024 Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons.

When the postseason began, the Timberwolves were in the middle of the Maritime Junior Hockey League (MHL) standings, fourth with a 31-16-2 record, scoring the fifth-most goals (211), allowing the fourth-most goals against (182). Special teams were a bright spot for Miramichi, boasting an 82.1% success rate on the penalty kill.

However, when it was time for the playoffs, the Timberwolves kicked things into high gear. After a five-game series with the third-place West Kent Steamers, Miramichi swept the Edmundston Blizzard for a spot in the MHL final against the first-place Summerside Western Capitals.

It was a close matchup with five one-goal games, but the Timberwolves got the job done in six games to win the first MHL championship in their 24th season and advance to the Centennial Cup for the first time.

Ludovic Dufort was a leader on offence, registering 46 goals and 82 points during the regular season. The 21-year-old added three goals and 16 points during the playoffs.

Goaltender Jack Flanagan came off the bench during Game 3 against the Steamers and went on an 11-2 run, posting a 2.86 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. The 19-year-old earned playoff MVP honours for his efforts.

The Timberwolves also have talent behind the bench. Kory Baker played 15 years of pro hockey in the ECHL, Sweden, Denmark and Finland before returning home to Miramichi to become head coach at the start of the 2022-23 season.

It’s been over 20 years since an Atlantic team has won Canada’s National Junior A Championship. The Halifax Oland Exports were the last national titlists, winning on home ice in 2002.

HOW THEY GOT TO OAKVILLE

Maritime Junior Hockey League
Quarterfinal: defeated West Kent Steamers 4-1 (3-5, 5-1, 2-1, 5-4, 4-3 OT)
Semifinal: defeated Edmundston Blizzard 4-0 (3-2, 5-4, 4-3 2OT, 4-2)
Final: defeated Summerside Western Capitals 4-2 (5-6 2OT, 5-1, 4-3, 4-3, 1-2 2OT, 5-4)

REGULAR SEASON

Record (W-L-OTL): 31-16-2 (4th in MHL)
Goals for: 211 (5th in MHL)
Goals against: 182 (4th in MHL)
Power play: 43 for 209 (20.6% – 7th in MHL)
Penalty killing: 170 of 207 (82.1% – 3rd in MHL)
Longest winning streak: 7 (Sept. 27-Oct. 22)

Top 3 scorers:
• Ludovic Dufort – 46G 36A 82P (3rd in MHL)
• Hugo Audette – 14G 46A 60P (18th in MHL)
• Jeremy Duhamel – 23G 35A 58P (20th in MHL)

PLAYOFFS

Record: 12-3
Goals for: 59
Goals against: 44
Power play: 11 for 52 (21.2%)
Penalty killing: 42 of 53 (79.2%)

Top 3 scorers:
• Zachael Turgeon – 9G 14A 23P
• David Doucet – 13G 7A 20P
• Hugo Audette – 3G 17A 20P

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

First appearance

COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY COMMITMENTS

Jeremy Duhamel – Nipissing University (2024-25)

CJHL TOP 20 RANKINGS

Oct. 2 – not ranked
Oct. 9 – 16th
Oct. 16 – 8th
Oct. 23 – 8th
Oct. 30 – 9th
Nov. 6 – 14th
Nov. 13 – 19th
Nov. 20 – not ranked
Nov. 27 – Honourable Mention
Dec. 4 – not ranked
Dec. 11 – not ranked
Dec. 18 – not ranked
Jan. 8 – not ranked
Jan. 15 – not ranked
Jan. 22 – not ranked
Jan. 29 – not ranked
Feb. 5 – not ranked
Feb. 12 – not ranked
Feb. 19 – not ranked
Feb. 26 – not ranked
March 4 – not ranked
March 11 – 11th

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Greater Sudbury Cubs

Road to the 2024 Centennial Cup: Navan Grads

The CCHL champions finally got over the hump to win their first league crown and move into the national spotlight

Jason La Rose
|
May 08, 2024

Thirty-two years in the making, the Navan Grads are finally going to play under the brightest lights in Junior A hockey.

The Grads claimed their first-ever Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) championship – and earned a place at the 2024 Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, in the process – by downing the Pembroke Lumber Kings, Rockland Nationals and Smiths Falls Bears.

Amazingly, the three series wins brought the Grads’ all-time total to FOUR since joining the CCHL (then known as the Central Junior A Hockey League) in 1991. The only previous victory? A sweep of the Kanata Stallions in 2003.

Navan was the class of the CCHL in the regular season, finishing 11 points clear of Smiths Falls on the back of a league-best offence (235 goals scored) led by Gabriel Crete (24-50—74) and Devon Savignac (35-31—66), who were third and fourth, respectively in CCHL scoring.

At the other end of the ice, Jaeden Nelson was a workhorse; the 17-year-old rookie was fourth in the CCHL with 2,173 minutes played, and posted top-five finishes in wins (25, first) goals-against average (2.57, fourth), save percentage (.921, third) and shutouts (3, tied for third).

The Grads ran into early adversity in the playoffs, pushed to double overtime in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Lumber Kings with the series even at 2-2. But Sebbie Johnson scored the winner, Navan closed out the series in Game 6 and never trailed in a series again.

It’s been 13 years since Pembroke won the most recent National Junior A Championship by a CCHL team. It has been in the mix over the last decade, though; the Ottawa Jr. Senators reached the semifinals in 2018 , 2019 and 2023, while the Carleton Place Canadians were national runners-up in 2014 and 2015.

HOW THEY GOT TO OAKVILLE

Central Canada Hockey League
Quarterfinal: defeated Pembroke Lumber Kings 4-2 (5-1, 2-1 OT, 1-3, 1-5, 5-4 2OT, 4-3)
Semifinal: defeated Rockland Nationals 4-1 (5-4. 1-0 OT, 4-6, 5-3, 1-0)
Final: defeated Smiths Falls Bears 4-2 (3-2 OT, 3-4 OT, 4-1, 3-2, 0-5, 5-2)

REGULAR SEASON

Record (W-L-OTL): 41-9-5 (1st in CCHL)
Goals for: 235 (1st in CCHL)
Goals against: 144 (3rd in CCHL)
Power play: 36 for 183 (19.7% - 5th in CCHL)
Penalty killing: 186 of 216 (86.1% - 3rd in CCHL)
Longest winning streak: 9 (Feb. 23-March 16)

Top 3 scorers:
• Gabriel Crete – 24G 50A 74P (3rd in CCHL)
• Devon Savignac – 35G 31A 66P (4th in CCHL)
• Sebbie Johnson – 24G 25A 49P (23rd in CCHL)

PLAYOFFS

Record: 12-5
Goals for: 52
Goals against: 46
Power play: 11 for 60 (18.3%)
Penalty killing: 53 of 61 (86.9%)

Top 3 scorers:
• Colin MacDougall – 10G 11A 21P
• Sebbie Johnson – 6G 12A 18P
• Nicholas Paone – 7G 7A 14P

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

First appearance

COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY COMMITMENTS

Gabriel Crete – Mercyhurst University (2024-25)
Cristobal Tola – Amherst College (2024-25)
Matthew Roy – Bowdoin College (2024-25)
Devon Savignac – Concordia University Wisconsin (2024-25)

CJHL TOP 20 RANKINGS

Oct. 2 – not ranked
Oct. 9 – not ranked
Oct. 16 – not ranked
Oct. 23 – not ranked
Oct. 30 – Honourable Mention
Nov. 6 – Honourable Mention
Nov. 13 – 20th
Nov. 20 – 18th
Nov. 27 – 17th
Dec. 4 – 17th
Dec. 11 – 13th
Dec. 18 – 14th
Jan. 8 – 11th
Jan. 15 – 13th
Jan. 22 – 16th
Jan. 29 – 11th
Feb. 5 – 11th
Feb. 12 – 6th
Feb. 19 – 7th
Feb. 26 – 7th
March 4 – 7th
March 11 – 5th

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Melfort Mustangs

Road to the 2024 Centennial Cup: Melfort Mustangs

It was a challenging playoff journey, but the SJHL champions are hungry to bring a national title back to Saskatchewan

Shannon Coulter
|
May 07, 2024

It’s been quite the playoff run for the Melfort Mustangs, and now their postseason will continue at the 2024 Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons.

The Mustangs finished with a 38-14-4 record in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL)—which placed them second to the Flin Flon Bombers. Defence and goaltending stood out for Melfort, allowing only 158 goals (second in SJHL) and having a strong penalty kill (88.2% - second).

In the playoffs, Melfort wrapped up a five-game series against the Estevan Bruins to set up a semifinal against the Humboldt Broncos. The series pushed both teams to the limit and included seven periods of overtime, ending on Ryan Duguay’s goal 2:55 into overtime in Game 7 that propelled the Mustangs to the league final.

The season came down to the Mustangs and the Bombers—who had spent 15 consecutive weeks in the No. 1 spot of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) rankings. But Melfort began the series with a defiant 9-2 victory and wrapped up the title in six games.

James Venne led the Mustangs in the crease this year. Referred to as the best goalie in Mustangs history by head coach and general manager, Trevor Blevins, Venne led the SJHL with 2,661 minutes played during the regular season, boasting a .912 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average. In the playoffs, the 20-year-old had a 12-3 record with a 2.50 GAA and a .925 save percentage.

Aidyn Hutchinson was the top skater for the Mustangs, finishing third in SJHL scoring with 33 goals and 78 points during the regular season before adding 15 goals and 32 points in the playoffs.

The Mustangs are hungry for a national title—it has been a decade since the Yorkton Terriers defeated the Carleton Place Canadians 4-3 in overtime to give the Prairie league its most recent National Junior A Championship.

HOW THEY GOT TO OAKVILLE

Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League
Quarterfinal: defeated Estevan Bruins 4-1 (5-1, 7-4, 3-4, 5-2, 4-2)
Semifinal: defeated Humboldt Broncos 4-3 (4-2, 4-3, 2-3 3OT, 4-3 OT, 2-4, 3-4 2OT, 5-4 OT)
Final: defeated Flin Flon Bombers 4-2 (9-2, 4-1, 4-3 2OT, 3-4 OT, 2-5, 4-1)

REGULAR SEASON

Record (W-L-OTL): 38-14-4 (2nd in SJHL)
Goals for: 218 (4th in SJHL)
Goals against: 158 (2nd in SJHL)
Power play: 58 for 268 (21.6% – 5th in SJHL)
Penalty killing: 208 of 250 (88.2% – 2nd in SJHL)
Longest winning streak: 9 (Feb. 16-March 10)

Top 3 scorers:
• Aidyn Hutchinson – 33G 45A 78P (3rd in SJHL)
• Clay Sleeva – 25G 34A 59P (15th in SJHL)
• Chase Friedt-Mohr – 14G 42A 56P (20th in SJHL)

PLAYOFFS

Record: 12-6
Goals for: 74
Goals against: 52
Power play: 14 for 72 (19.4%)
Penalty killing: 60 of 75 (80.0%)

Top 3 scorers:
• Aidyn Hutchinson – 15G 17A 32P
• Ryan Duguay – 14G 10A 24P
• Chase Friedt-Mohr – 9G 15A 24P

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

2015 – Melfort Mustangs | 4th place | 2-3 | 12GF 19GA
1996 – Melfort Mustangs | runners-up | 5-1 | 35GF 10GA

COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY COMMITMENTS

Chase Friedt-Mohr – University of Regina (2024-25)
Hayden Prosofsky – Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (2024-25)
Zackery Somers – University of Maine (2024-25)

CJHL TOP 20 RANKINGS

Oct. 2 – 6th
Oct. 9 – 4th
Oct. 16 – 7th
Oct. 23 – 11th
Oct. 30 – Honourable Mention
Nov. 6 – not ranked
Nov. 13 – not ranked
Nov. 20 – not ranked
Nov. 27 – not ranked
Dec. 4 – not ranked
Dec. 11 – not ranked
Dec. 18 – not ranked
Jan. 8 – Honourable Mention
Jan. 15 – not ranked
Jan. 22 – Honourable Mention
Jan. 29 – Honourable Mention
Feb. 5 – 15th
Feb. 12 – not ranked
Feb. 19 – not ranked
Feb. 26 – Honourable Mention
March 4 – 12th
March 11 – 11th

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Greater Sudbury Cubs

Road to the 2024 Centennial Cup: Collingwood Blues

The OJHL champions dominated defensively to defend their title and earn a return trip to the national stage

Jason La Rose
|
May 07, 2024

They’re back!

The Collingwood Blues will be the only returnee at the 2024 Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, after defending their Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) championship with a dominant defensive performance.

The Blues, who were knocked out in the quarterfinals a year ago in Portage la Prairie, lost only seven times in 56 regular-season games and dropped only three of 19 on their playoff run, stifling opponents from the goaltender out.

They allowed just 88 goals in the regular season – a miniscule average of 1.57 per game and 56 fewer than the second-best Trenton Golden Hawks – before giving up 36 in 19 postseason contests.

Noah Pak put up video-game numbers in the Collingwood goal, going 37-5 with a 1.30 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and 12 (that’s right, 12!) shutouts. In his 41 starts, he allowed more than three goals exactly twice, and zero or one a whopping 25 times.

But that’s not to say the Blues can’t put the puck in the net. Exactly the opposite, in fact. They finished second with 284 goals – just five back of Trenton – with Dylan Hudon and his 73 points (29-44—73) leading an offence that featured eight 50-point scorers and seven who reached the 20-goal plateau.

Collingwood was rarely tested as it rolled through the playoffs. It posted sweeps of Brantford and Leamington in the opening round and West Conference final, respectively, and dropped just one game to Oakville, losing Game 4 after winning the first three against the Centennial Cup hosts.

It’s lone bit of adversity came in the league final when Trenton evened the series with wins in Games 3-4, but the Blues retook the advantage with a 7-2 rout in Game 5 and finished things off on the road.

Making the short 144-kilometre trip south to Oakville, the Blues will look to become the first OJHL champion to win Canada’s National Junior A Championship since the Aurora Tigers in 2007.

HOW THEY GOT TO OAKVILLE

Ontario Junior Hockey League
Round 1: defeated Brantford 99ers 4-0 (2-1 2OT, 5-1, 4-0, 4-3)
Quarterfinal: defeated Oakville Blades 4-1 (3-2, 4-2, 10-1, 3-5, 3-0)
Semifinal: defeated Leamington Flyers 4-0 (3-0, 2-1 OT, 6-2, 4-2)
Final: defeated Trenton Golden Hawks 4-2 (5-4, 4-0, 4-5, 1-3, 7-2, 3-2)

REGULAR SEASON

Record (W-L-T-OTL): 49-6-0-1 (1st in OJHL)
Goals for: 284 (2nd in OJHL)
Goals against: 88 (1st in OJHL)
Power play: 56 for 173 (32.4% - 2nd in OJHL)
Penalty killing: 139 of 167 (83.2% - 6th in OJHL)
Longest winning streak: 14 (Dec. 22-Feb. 11)

Top 3 scorers:
• Dylan Hudon – 29G 44A 73P (13th in OJHL)
• Spencer Young – 39G 33A 72P (14th in OJHL)
• Jack Rimmer – 25G 40A 65P (24th in OJHL)

PLAYOFFS

Record: 16-3
Goals for: 77
Goals against: 36
Power play: 21 for 71 (29.6%)
Penalty killing: 70 of 79 (88.6%)

Top 3 scorers:
• Spencer Young – 12G 18A 30P
• Dylan Hudon – 10G 14A 24P
• Jack Rimmer – 10G 12A 22P

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

2023 – Collingwood Blues | 5th place | 3-2 | 14GF 11GA

COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY COMMITMENTS

Declan Bowmaster – Merrimack College (2025-26)
Ryan Cook – Wilfrid Laurier University (2024-25)
Cameron Eke – Niagara University (2025-26)
Dylan Hudon – University of Guelph (2024-25)
Marcus Lougheed – Lake Superior State University (2025-26)
Noah Pak – Yale University (2024-25)
Jack Rimmer – Niagara University (2025-26)
Jack Silverman – Middlebury College (2024-25)
Landon Wright – University of Maine (2026-27)
Spencer Young – Niagara University (2024-25)

CJHL TOP 20 RANKINGS

Oct. 2 – 8th
Oct. 9 – 5th
Oct. 16 – 4th
Oct. 23 – 2nd
Oct. 30 – 2nd
Nov. 6 – 4th
Nov. 13 – 2nd
Nov. 20 – 3rd
Nov. 27 – 3rd
Dec. 4 – 3rd
Dec. 11 – 3rd
Dec. 18 – 3rd
Jan. 8 – 3rd
Jan. 15 – 3rd
Jan. 22 – 3rd
Jan. 29 – 2nd
Feb. 5 – 2nd
Feb. 12 – 2nd
Feb. 19 – 2nd
Feb. 26 – 1st
March 4 – 1st
March 11 – 1st

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For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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Miramichi Timberwolves (MHL) vs. Collingwood Blues (OJHL)| Centennial Cup
Schedule
HC Logo
Edmonton, Alta., Canada
Date: Aug 3 to 10