NWT hockey players at the Canada 55+ Games in Kamloops. Photo submitted by Johnnie Bowden
NWT hockey players in Kamloops say they have become the first from the territory to record a win at the Canada 55+ Games.
Every two years, thousands of adults aged 55 and over travel from across Canada to compete in a sporting program that has now grown to 26 different events.
Over the past week, results for NWT participants have included a silver medal in women’s pickleball and a victory for the NWT men’s hockey team over rivals from Salmon Arm, BC.
Johnnie Bowden, goaltender for the team, said the victory was the first recorded by the territory in the history of the Canada 55+ Games.
“It is the first one, there have not been any others. That was a big game for us,” Bowden told Cabin Radio.
“When we came off the ice after that game, we knew we had achieved something.”
Team coach Kenny Weaver said the victory provided a “great experience” for a team of eight Yellowknifers and seven representatives of other NWT communities.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to attend four other 55-plus hockey tournaments and this here is by far the strongest showing that we’ve had,” Weaver said. “We were in every game.”
Aside from defeating Salmon Arm 5-3, the NWT team lost 4-0 to Ontario and 4-1 to a team from Kelowna. On Friday, the NWT lost its bronze medal play-off 6-2 to the same team from Salmon Arm.
Weaver said the games “could have been a lot more lop-sided” without Bowden’s performances in net. Bowden, for his part, acknowledged Ontario in particular had provided “a busy game.”
“They kind-of had their way with us but I had a little bit of luck and lots of blocked shots,” he said.
Bowden paid tribute to the late Tommy Williams as he recalled the team’s successes in Kamloops.
Tommy, born and raised in the NWT, played hockey at the Arctic Winter Games in the 1970s and went on to devote his life to the growth of the sport in the territory.
He co-founded Inuvik’s IRC Cup and Gwich’in Cup before becoming a coach and mentor to hundreds of athletes at Arctic Winter Games and Canada Winter Games level, while remaining one of the North’s leading goalies for decades.
Tommy passed away on August 6.
“Just about every person on this team was connected in some way or other with Tommy Williams,” said Bowden.
“We took Tommy with us here. We had special hats made. We wore his number. We were paying tribute to someone who has given a lot to the North, so we had a little bit of an extra inspiration.”
On winning a game in Tommy’s name, Bowden said: “We were ecstatic. We were like a bunch of kids.”
Some of the team had indeed played together at the Arctic Winter Games as kids, he added, which had been part of the reason for uniting a team partly comprised of old friends for the trip to Kamloops.
“I’m 65 and don’t feel I have that many years left,” said Bowden.
“This was the largest Canada 55+ Games ever. The oldest participants were a 94-year-old man and a 93-year-old woman. They’re out there saying, ‘We’re not quite dead.’
“We’re very lucky that we have our health and we can do such things.”