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Little NHL officials drop puck at Sudbury game as Indigenous event marks 50 years

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A long-running hockey tournament that started in Northern Ontario will celebrate a major milestone next month.

Before Thursday’s NOJHL game between the Sudbury Cubs and the Blind River Beavers, officials from the Little Native Hockey League tournament were invited to drop the puck.

James ‘Jim’ McGregor of Whitefish River First Nation is the only remaining co-founder of the tourney, which started in Little Current on Manitoulin Island.

This year, the Little NHL marks 50 years of bringing together Indigenous hockey teams from across Ontario.

“I used to look at our kids in the community and they’re all skating, but they had no place to go to show their talent,” McGregor said.

“So this idea came about: how about we have a little tournament for our kids?”

The tournament has grown to almost 250 teams, including 38 girls’ teams. About 4,000 athletes, coaches and parents will converge on Markham during March Break.

Before Thursday’s NOJHL game between the Sudbury Cubs and the Blind River Beavers, officials from the Little Native Hockey League tournament were invited to drop the puck Feb. 22/24. (Angela Gemmill/CTV News)

Before Thursday’s NOJHL game between the Sudbury Cubs and the Blind River Beavers, officials from the Little Native Hockey League tournament were invited to drop the puck Feb. 22/24. (Angela Gemmill/CTV News)

“To our people, the game of hockey is so important,” said acting president Chico Ralf.

“When our little ones step on the ice — and it doesn’t matter what calibre you play… we all have fun.”

“Geographically, we have a lot of teams and a lot of players from our area that go and attend the Little NHL year after year,” said Dominic Fletcher, Indigenous community relations with the Sudbury Cubs.

Important tournament

“I think it’s important to show our athletes or our players and our community just how important the tournament really, truly is.”

“We think there’s a lot of advantages to playing the game of hockey, as there are with many other sports,” said Cubs managing director Blaine Smith.

“We’re just proud to be one of those conduits for the youngsters to come through and recognize hockey is at all levels.”

According to Little NHL organizers, the tournament generates millions of dollars for the host community. One Sudbury politician wants to see the city play host in the future.

“Maybe looking at something where northern Ontario teams, instead of having to travel all the way down to southern Ontario, we could host the northern Ontario tournament here and showcase northern Ontario talent locally,” said Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the tournament, 15 individuals will be inducted into the Little NHL Hall of Fame during an evening gala.

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