56 teams, a metric tonne of potatoes — and one unforgettable hockey weekend in Whitehorse

Brothers Hammond Dick and Testloa Smith are broadcasting some of the tournament games in Kaska. To do so they translated 20 pages of hockey terms into Kaska. (George Maratos/CBC News - image credit)
Brothers Hammond Dick and Testloa Smith are broadcasting some of the tournament games in Kaska. To do so they translated 20 pages of hockey terms into Kaska. (George Maratos/CBC News - image credit)

How big is the Yukon Native Hockey tournament?

One metric tonne of potatoes big.

That's what the person tasked with feeding fans and players ordered ahead of this weekend in order to meet the demand.

"That's about 2670 potatoes," said Tim Cameron.

Cameron manages the concession at Takhini Arena, one of the venues where the tournament is happening this weekend. He estimates he'll serve upwards of 1800 orders of poutine this weekend.

"I try to sleep when I can because I'm here all the time."

George Maratos/CBC News
George Maratos/CBC News

The Yukon Native Hockey tournament, happening this weekend in Whitehorse, is the largest hockey event of the year in the territory.

This year 56 teams have signed up. Over the course of the weekend, they will play 99 games across eight divisions, including a youth division and a women's division created last year.

"All the players I talk to outside the Yukon say this is one of the best hockey tournaments around," said Michelle Dawson-Beattie, president of the Yukon First Nation Hockey Association.

Dawson-Beattie said this tournament is about more than just hockey. It's also a place where young players can learn to practice healthy choices.

"For some of them this is the biggest stage they will ever play on," she said. "Their faces light up when they get to play in front of their parents and their grandparents and you know, their family and friends. That's what makes it kind of worth it for me."

Star and Candace Ruben travelled all the way from the small community Paulatuk, N.W.T. to watch the tournament. For both of them, it's their first time visiting Whitehorse.

They have come to the tournament as fans, here to watch their husbands play.

George Maratos/CBC News
George Maratos/CBC News

"There's a lot of adrenaline, but it's nerve-wracking," said Candace, as she let out a big cheer for Paulatuk.

To mark the occasion Star wore special earrings for the tournament. They are beaded hockey jerseys custom made by her.

"They're representing Paulatuk's colours on the ice, like their jerseys are white and blue and I just couldn't decide on whether to have one colour or do both, so I did one of each."

Broadcasting in Kaska language

Brothers Hammond Dick and Testola Smith are hoping to score big this weekend when it comes to language. They are broadcasting a handful of games in their traditional Kaska language.

They came up with the idea only three weeks ago.

Since then they have translated 20 pages of hockey terms into Kaska – words including skate, net, stick and goal.

"It's been fun, a lot of fun, just to hear that language and speak that language," said Dick, who also goes by his traditional name Dakeli.

"It's really important because so many Aboriginal languages are on the verge of being lost or are lost already and we want to prevent that from happening to our people."

Dick spent a decade at residential school. While there, he would sneak around and speak his language whenever he could. Today he estimates there are only 30 or so fluent Kaska language speakers, with him and his brother being two of them.

He said he hopes the language broadcasts will become a regular part of the tournament moving forward.

"We got feedback from the community already," Dick said. "A lot of them are so happy to hear that language in the play by play."

The Yukon Native Hockey tournament continues through until the end of Sunday.