In an effort to rekindle a sport that for over a generation packed Maht Mahs with a particularly intense style of ball hockey, a tournament was held at the Tseshaht gym for the first time in four years.
Celebrating 30 years since the team was founded, the Thunder hosted a ball hockey tournament on the First Nation’s reserve Nov. 11. The competition attracted seven teams, with players coming from as far as Port Hardy, Ladysmith and Ahousaht.
“It went really well. It was a really packed house all day,” said tournament organizer Les Sam. “From start to finish it was a big crowd, lots of excitement.”
In their fourth game of the day, Notorious came out on top, with the Ladysmith team coming from behind in the closing seconds of the final to narrowly beat a squad from Port Hardy.
“They scored two golds in 23 seconds to win. They came from behind,” said Sam. “It was one of the best games ever in that gym for a finish.”
It was an appropriate conclusion to a packed, one-day tournament, where tensions often were on the verge of snapping during fast, physical games. Playing on an enclosed, basketball court-sized surface, goalies had to be constantly alert, as slap shots came from anywhere on the court.
“You could score from anywhere. Some of those guys could smack that ball off you in a second from one end to another. They tee it right up,” said Sam.
A few scraps erupted over the day, but severe injuries were avoided, said Sam – except one popped knee that warranted a hospital visit.
“Somebody popped his knee out and there was a couple of scuffles that resulted in a black eye or two, but it was pretty controlled,” he said.
Sam started playing ball hockey in Maht Mahs 50 years ago when the gym’s ownership transferred from the Alberni Indian Residential School. Over the ensuing years the sport developed at the location, resulting in a unique, fast version with non-stop action. As the game developed a runner was dropped to give more space for four-on-four matches with goalies, where off-sides proved to be an unnecessary delay to the action.
“It’s easier for the refs to not call off-sides and have that controversy,” said Sam.
He recalls years when two ball hockey tournaments were hosted at Maht Mahs, attracting teams from across Vancouver Island and B.C.’s mainland.
“Most of the time we had 12 men’s teams and six women’s teams, and we went from Friday to Sunday evening,” said Sam.
But after a four-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s tournament was almost called off when only seven teams registered. Sam hopes that momentum will continue, starting with the local Thunder team.
“We had trouble getting players out right before the tournament and I think it showed in our play,” he admitted. “If they want to be competitive in sports they have to practice. You have to put more into it you want to get something out of it.”
Most valuable player: Justin Frechette, Indian Outlaws, 16 points
Top scorer: Chris Nookemis, Indian Outlaws, 11 goals
Top goalie: Peco George, Notorious
Top defenceman: Dean Wallace, Notorious
All stars: Braeden Walkus, Wallace Memorial, Charles Harris, Notorious, Rolando King, Wallace Memorial, Lorenzo Martinez, Notorious (game-winning goal, 3 points in the finals)