49th edition of Little NHL will proceed next week

MISSISSAUGA – There has been much speculation as to whether the 49th edition of the Little NHL (Native Hockey League) will continue next week in Mississauga as reports of the COVID-19 virus continue to rise but Little NHL president Marian Jacko said the tournament will continue, albeit with a few less teams.

“Right now, the plan is to move ahead with the tournament,” Ms. Jacko told The Expositor in a Monday afternoon interview.

Ms. Jacko, a Wiikwemkoong band member who also presently lives in Mississauga, noted that teams from Kashechewan, Fort Albany and Attawapiskat will not be coming to Little NHL amid concerns of their remoteness and availability of health care should COVID-19 reach their respective communities.

“We understand why they are pulling out and we respect their positions,” Ms. Jacko said. “Essentially, we respect people’s decisions to withdraw, and to continue to attend and we understand the rationale for those teams that pull out.”

Ms. Jacko said she had seen the letter from M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige that called on the Little NHL executive to postpone this year’s tournament that was circulated widely on social media this past weekend.

“It is our concern that continuing to host this tournament will allow for our First Nations participants to unknowingly increase the speed of the transmission of this virus to our communities,” the ogimaa-kwe writes. “As you are aware, coronavirus can be deadly to our elderly, our youth and those with respiratory concerns. Further, we have also received concerns from our elders and our community with respect to the transmission of this virus. We have seen what this virus is doing in China, Italy, Iran and the United States—this would not be a good thing in our communities.”

Ogimaa-kwe Debassige noted the hard work, time and money that has been invested in preparation of the tournament but suggested the executive put the participants’ health first.

“On a personal note,” Ogimaa-kwe Debassige concludes, “as a descendent of one of our (the Little NHL’s) founding fathers, I can say that I firmly believe that they would never choose to do something that may jeopardize the health and safety of our communities.”

Ms. Jacko said that, to date, she has not received any indication from M’Chigeeng that they would be pulling out of the Little NHL.

As of press time, 214 teams will be attending the tournament, down from 227 last year.

Ms. Jacko said the executive has been in contact with both the Ontario Hockey Association, Ontario Women’s Hockey Association and Peel Health about the tournament and the safety precautions being undertaken to keep players and fans healthy.

Family and friends are being reminded to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer, fist bump or elbow touch instead of shaking hands, and not share water bottles or towels.

Ms. Jacko said she has heard of several First Nations that are preparing special player care packages that include individual hand sanitizer bottles.

“A lot of the communities are not planning to attend as many social activities outside of the tournament as they may have used to,” Ms. Jacko said, noting that players and families are also being encouraged to steer clear of the arena lobbies too.

“This information is all being shared with the teams,” the president added. “The more awareness, the better.”

This year’s host community is Nipissing First Nation and Ms. Jacko said the Nipissing team has created a great week of events that will be posted on the Little NHL website Monday night, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

The opening ceremonies will kick off with a Little NHL alumni versus NHL alumni game at 5:30 pm on Sunday, March 15. Islanders Nyron Panamick-Hare of M’Chigeeng, Collin-James Newbury of Wiikwemkoong and Samuel Assinewai of Aundeck Omni Kaning will play for the Little NHL alumni team while Reggie Leach of Aundeck Omni Kaning and son Jamie Leach and Hawk Recollet of Whitefish River First Nation will play for the NHL alumni.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing everybody and the kids on the ice, smiling,” Ms. Jacko said.

“We’re a volunteer group that works very hard all year long,” the president added, thanking Nipissing First Nation for their time and effort with this year’s Little NHL.

“The volunteer board, we do it for the kids and the kids’ smiles are what makes it all worthwhile,” Ms. Jacko concluded.

For more information, visit lnhl.ca.