MISSISSAUGA—The annual Little Native Hockey League (NHL) hockey tournament wrapped up yet another successful week of hockey, this year organized by the Moose Cree First Nation, with a record 204 teams from across the province descending upon Mississauga for four days of hockey bliss.
“It was such an amazing tournament,” Little NHL’s new president, M’Chigeeng’s Debbie Debassige, told The Expositor. Ms. Debassige is the Little NHL’s first woman president. Prior to this role, Ms. Debassige previously served as secretary for the organization.
“We have over 3,000 hockey players and 204 teams playing on 14 ice surfaces in four arenas,” Ms. Debassige added. “And so many fans. From aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas and even people who just wanted to come and watch—all the arenas were packed.”
So packed were the arenas that staff underestimated the turnout, selling out of food more than once.
Being president of the Little NHL, and a major volunteer to boot, meant that Ms. Debassige was only able to catch five minutes of one of the championship games out of all four days of hockey that saw upwards of 25 teams represented from Manitoulin and Whitefish River First Nation.
“I’m busy behind the scenes,” she admitted.
This year, a special dedication was given to the late George Francis, of Whitefish River First Nation, one of Little NHL’s founding fathers, with the novice girls’ division dedicated in his memory. Ms. Debassige noted that another tribute will be held in honour of the late Earl Debassige, fellow founder, that will also honour this visionary builder.
“Without the dedication and involvement of volunteers, we would never have the successful tournament we enjoy now,” Ms. Debassige added.
Mississauga will be the host city for the next four years, through the Little NHL’s 50th edition, but after that the location of the tournament that injects plenty of money into its host community could be up for grabs.
Opening ceremonies special guest this year was former NHLer Jonathan Cheechoo, who hails from Moose Cree First Nation, as well as stalwarts (and NHL veterans) Stan Jonathan and Reggie Leach. Cody McCormick (Colorado Avalanche, Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild) held a hockey school while Fred Sasakamoose, the first First Nations man to play in the NHL, was also on hand all week long, cheering on the players.
Next year’s organizing community has yet to be determined, but Ms. Debassige is hoping that is firmed up in the next week. After all, there is a lot of planning to do!