“I was heartbroken”: a young aspiring hockey player left to reassess after the team closed

A native hockey player is unsure of his next steps following the demise of the team he was going to play for.

Blaise Ovayuak, from Tuktoyaktuk, had just missed his flight to Salt Lake City, Utah, when he discovered the incident saved him from an unnecessary trip to the United States.

“One of the players there texted me saying they didn’t have enough players,” he said. “I was heartbroken.”

Ovayuak was going to play for Utah Altitude in the Western States Hockey League (WSHL), a level two junior A league.

Utah Altitude posted a statement on the WSHL website.

“We are disappointed to announce that Utah Altitude has ceased operations with immediate effect. In the best interests of our players and the WSHL, we have executed transactions that will ensure that all of our contracted players will have the opportunity to continue playing this season, ”the statement said.

Now 17-year-old Ovayuak must decide what to do next and if he wants to continue playing a sport he has loved since he was a child.

From Tuktoyaktuk to GMHL

Ovayuak started playing hockey at the age of nine, living in Tuktoyaktuk.

“We didn’t really have a team and it’s like those who present themselves,” he explains.

He says he was inspired to play after seeing young stars like Taylor Hall on the Edmonton Oilers.

Ovayuak then moved to Inuvik where he played for two more seasons.

His family moved to Lethbridge when he was 14 and he was fortunate enough to play hockey at a higher level.

“When I first moved down south, it was my first year in bantam hockey… that’s when the hits start. So I didn’t know any of that and then first game, first shift I was completely shaken up, then I just flipped the switch in my brain and said hold my head up every time. times, ”he said. “After I found out that I could hit people back, I hit everyone I could. “

The six-footer Ovayuak plays both attack and defense.

In Lethbridge, he was fortunate enough to play in the Alberta Native Hockey Provincials.

“I was selected from a reserve outside of Lethbridge to go play with them in Edmonton,” said Ovayuak.

It was there that he was discovered by the Slave Lake Ice Dogs, part of the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League (GMHL), before playing for the Gibbons Pioneers.

He said that when starting to play in the south he feared he would face racism, but was happy to see many other native players on his teams.

“With all the racism that occurs with sport, especially with natives… But when I first went to [Slave Lake], 80 percent of the team was Indigenous and I thought that was really cool, ”he said.

Before learning the team was retreating, Ovayuak told CKLB he hoped to be an inspiration to future Indigenous hockey players.

“It was my plan for the people at home. For example, if you focus on something, you can do it, ”he said.

Ovayuak still hopes to impress the youngsters, with whatever he decides to do next.

He says he could still play as a loan player for the Gibbons Pioneers, but also plans to focus on schooling.

Catherine J. Martinez