A donation of equipment from a British Columbia minor hockey association is arriving just in time for young players in Łutselkʼe, who lost much of their gear to mould.
Bags of skates, helmets, pants, and sweaters were flown to the community by Air Tindi on Wednesday.
The donation comes from BC's North Delta Minor Hockey Association. Archie Catholique, who helps out with youth hockey in Łutselkʼe, said the equipment will make a big difference.
The North Delta association now hopes to help more northern communities through a family connection to Air Tindi pilot Dave Fletcher.
Fletcher felt frustrated by a perceived lack of youth sport investment while helping out with hockey teams as an air ambulance pilot in Cambridge Bay.
While working on the west coast, he asked the North Delta group if they would consider donating used hockey gear to NWT communities. After a few years, the association got in touch to offer equipment left over from a sale.
Last year, the gear was divided and sent to the four communities of Łutselkʼe, Wekweètì, Whatì, and Gamètì. This year, the association's president – Rob Reid – decided the group could have more impact by focusing donations on one community.
Łutselkʼe was picked, which turned out to be a serendipitous choice as the community could no longer use most of its existing gear.
The community's arena had to close last year due to issues with mould, meaning youth missed a season of hockey while skates, pants, and hockey bags all had to be thrown out.
"All the equipment and donations that were previously brought in had to be thrown away because of the contamination – the possibility that it would affect the kids. So we had to get rid of it," Catholique told Cabin Radio.
Gary Murtsell and Rob Reid, of the North Delta Minor Hockey Association, with the donated equipment.
Catholique describes hockey as a popular pastime for Łutselkʼe's 300 residents, particularly kids gathering at the community arena. Clinics are organized two to three times a year.
Since the arena opened 10 years ago, Catholique says he has noticed a drop in "social problems" experienced in the community. Hockey season begins in November as the arena must wait for temperatures to drop low enough for natural ice.
Catholique thinks the latest North Delta donation will fully outfit around 10 children.
"In an isolated community it's sometimes very difficult," he said. "We're happy that we're given some equipment that will help children enjoy and be able to go and play hockey."
Catholique said the community is still looking for donations of hockey bags. "If there's someone out there that has hockey bags that they want to donate," he said, "we'll take them."
Hockey equipment awaits transport at an Air Tindi hangar.
Meanwhile, North Delta president Reid said what started as a one-off project is now set to continue.
Reid said the project was already close to his heart but became even more so after seeing The Grizzlies, this year's feature film based on the real-life story of Kugluktuk students transforming their lives through lacrosse.
"It shook me to my core," Reid said of the movie.
"It made me think to myself, if we could do something like that and we have the ability to do so, why wouldn't we?"