Important values shared to girls through hockey cultural exchange

The Little Native Hockey League Play With Heart Trophy memorializes an exceptional young female hockey player. photo by Maria Trudeau-Bomberry

by Marcia Trudeau-Bomberry

ETOBICOKE – Dressing room camaraderie and blades hitting the ice; it is what many children across the country look forward to every hockey season. The girls who play hockey in Wiikwemkoong and girls in Etobicoke are no different. 

Atom-aged hockey players are nine and 10 years old, and Abbey Tran first donned an Etobicoke Dolphin Jersey when she was only three years old. This is no different for many children on Manitoulin or across Northern Ontario. 

Abbey loved playing hockey and was so proud to be a Dolphin. In May of 2018, Abbey passed away from a sudden onset rare blood disorder. Yet Abbey impacted so many in her nine short years. She was a member of her school’s Me to We club, always looking for ways to raise awareness or funds for helping others. She spent one Christmas gathering donations for Syrian refugee families new to Canada. She made sandwiches and participated in a Street Patrol, handing them out to the city’s homeless. Abbey advocated for girls and women, for positive space, for breaking out of traditional ideas of what anyone had to be, based on their identities. She stood up against bullies and befriended everyone. Abbey loved art, sports and exploring the world, was silly and funny, kind and joyful—qualities that were contagious when in her company.

The hockey experience for many (though not all) girls, where house league hockey is the only option to play, is to skate along with the play and rarely touch the puck. Stronger and bigger players often carry the play. One of the few opportunities for girls to play together is at the annual Little Native Hockey League tournament. Wiikwemkoong has entered a female team in every division from Novice (seven- and eight-year-olds) to Midget (15 and 17 year olds). 

On October 18-20, a team of 13 girls travelled to represent LNHL and Wiikwemkoong at the annual ‘Pink the Rink’ girls’ hockey tournament in the Atom C division. For the girls that travelled to Etobicoke, it was a chance to play together that they would not have otherwise had until March break. The Etobicoke Dolphins and Abbey’s Goal ensured that the girls were welcomed with open arms at the tournament, giving them a welcome gift, an opportunity to change in the Juniors’ dressing room and participate in the pre-game activity before a Provincial Women’s Hockey League game. 

Abbey’s Goal is a charity created to honour Abbey’s memory. The Etobicoke Dolphins and the families within the organization have been a pillar of support for Abbey’s family. 

The Etobicoke Dolphins, Abbey’s Goal and the Little NHL were instrumental in the team from Wiikwemkoong participating in the ‘Pink the Rink’ tournament for the first time. The Dolphins and Abbey’s Goal provided sponsorship that covered the tournament entry fee, and most of the accommodation costs that were necessary for the trip.  

The Little Native Hockey League board of directors also commissioned the creation of the first Abbey Tran Memorial Trophy to be awarded to the Atom C tournament winners, created from Manitoulin Island cedar by an artist from Wiikwemkoong, a gift from the Little NHL. The trophy is inscribed with the message to “always play with lots of heart, in memory of Abbey Tran.”  

Abbey’s Goal will continue to work with the Little NHL and will be sponsoring two Indigenous communities to attend the annual March tournament.

Abbey planned to change the world by doing good things, helpful things and meaningful things. The Atom C girls are grateful to Abbey’s Goal, and say chi-miigwech. The LNHL/Wiikwemkoong team finished the tournament with two losses and a tie, but as one parent mentioned, “the hockey is almost secondary here” with the girls taking in the tournament festivities, the PWHL game and learning about Abbey and the charity set up in her honour.