No ‘Small’ experience


How would you feel knowing an entire community cares about your passion and
believes in your future?

To say Sanikiluaq, Nvt., is remote is an understatement; the community of
less than 900 sits on an island in the middle of the Hudson Bay. It is the
most southern community in Nunavut, but can only accessed by air.

It’s there where a strong community spirit lives, one that has twice in the
last two years rose to the occasion to ensure young females have the chance
to play hockey.

This time it was an opportunity for 11 girls to travel to Winnipeg, Man.,
for the annual hockey school run by three-time Olympic gold medallist Sami
Jo Small.

“Sami Jo Small invited the girls here to join her Winnipeg summer training
for free if they could make it down to Winnipeg,” explains Michael Small, a
teacher and hockey coach in Sanikiluaq. “After a frenzied three months of
fundraising and so much support from the community it literally brought me
to tears, we are sending 11 girls from our program to attend the hockey

Through various fundraisers, Sanikiluaq raised $9,000 and also received a
donation from the daycare’s weekly bingo and flight discounts from Calm
Air, all so the girls could have a chance to improve their skills and have
an experience of a lifetime with an Olympian.

“Sport has really taught me so much that I want them to have the
opportunity through sport to learn about themselves and about people around
them,” says Sami Jo Small, who tended goal for Canada at the 2002 Olympics,
and was the alternate netminder in 1998 and 2006. “I also want them to come
down and educate the rest of the campers about what it’s like where they
come from, to have some sharing going on, I think that’s really important.”

This isn’t the first time Small has invited girls from the North to attend
her camp, and she has made the trip to a number of communities through her
work with Right to play and the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program.

In every community she has visited, she’s extended the invitation to attend
her summer camp free of charge if they can make it to her hometown.

“I think it’s just the right thing to do; every year I try to make [the
camp] culturally inclusive,” she says. “Hockey is a game that can bridge
the divide and when you are on the ice you become a hockey player.”

This is the first year that Sanikiluaq has offered girls hockey; earlier
this year the town received more than $20,000 worth of equipment from
Jumpstart, and the community rallied together to foot the bill for shipping

The season was cut short due to warm weather (the natural ice surface is
completely dependent on the weather), so attending the camp meant that 11
girls were able to get a little more time on the ice, and learn new skills
and drills they can take back for next season.

“I wanted to learn more activities and drills on the ice,” said Rita Ulaaju
Crow, one of the more seasoned players in Sanikiluaq. “I would like to go
back to the hockey camp if there is another one next year and I want to say
thank you because we learnt a lot of new things and we never do that many
drills in our hometown.”

Michael Small didn’t attend the camp in Winnipeg, but hopes the girls
learned from being exposed to a different lifestyle.

“A chance to bond and have fun,” he says of what he wanted the trip to be
for the girls. “Hopefully [create] some memories that last a lifetime,
develop leadership skills and [bring] even more excitement to play the game
we all love.”

Sami Jo says she was pleasantly surprised a tiny community like Sanikiluaq
would be able to fundraise to send that many girls to camp, and has high
hopes for the community’s future in female hockey.

“I think the fact that they are embracing girls hockey is amazing, but more
importantly they are developing strong female leaders in their community,”
she says. “They are saying to their young girls that girls matter and I
think that is a huge step for these young girls.”

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