Dominating the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships: What Makes Manitoba So Strong?

by ahnationtalk on April 24, 202453 Views

April 24, 2024

The 2023 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) was a memorable tournament for Team Manitoba Male, where they captured Gold in front of home fans in the event’s host city of Winnipeg. There were many talented players on the team, some of whom will return for NAHC 2024 in Grande Prairie, while others have moved on to new hockey challenges. This article will unpack where each 2023 Team Manitoba player is today, which will help explain how the team was so dominant in a national setting.

Returning Players (10):

  • Ian Buors (F) – U18 AAA + MJHL
  • Maxx Hamelin (F) – U18 AAA + MJHL
  • Marlen Edwards (F) – MJHL
  • Peyton Allard (F) – MJHL
  • Hubert Clarke (D) – U17 AAA + U18 AAA
  • Ayden Collins (D) – U17 AAA + MJHL
  • Tavon McCorrister (D) – MJHL
  • Gage Sutherland (D) – MJHL
  • Luke Wagner (D) – MJHL
  • Mariko Bercier (G) – SMAAAHL

Most returning players spent 2024 in Manitoba’s Junior “A” league, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), one of the best hockey opportunities for young hockey players in Manitoba, while some played AAA hockey or a mix of both AAA and the MJHL. Thinking back to the 2023 Team Manitoba Male team, that roster had a great mix of older and younger players, with six 2005s, eight 2006s, and seven 2007s. This set the team up well for this year’s tournament, where 2006s-2008s can play, allowing multiple returnees to enter Grande Prairie with valuable past tournament experience. Among these players, 2023 NAHC Top Forward Award winner Marlen Edwards returns after posting 35 points in 55 MJHL games as a 17-year-old rookie. Players such as Ian Buors, Maxx Hamelin, and Hubert Clarke should get more of the spotlight at the 2024 NAHC with others graduating and moving on to other hockey opportunities. Goaltender Mariko Bercier returns after going 4-0 at the 2023 NAHC, looking to go back-to-back with another competitive roster in front of him.

Graduates (6):

  • Ben Roulette (F) – MJHL
  • Carter Campbell (F) – SJHL
  • Carter Zalischuk (F) – MJHL
  • Cole Robertson (F) – NAHL
  • Dawson Andries (F) – MJHL
  • Darian Sinclair (D) – KJHL

Most 2005-born graduates played Junior “A” level hockey or better this season, with players like Ben Roulette putting up significant numbers against Junior “A” competition. Specifically, Roulette had 49 points in 50 games as an 18-year-old in the MJHL this year with Wayayseecappo, which ranked him 19th in league scoring. Players with stats like Ben Roulette may play for a competitive college or university following their junior careers because of their impressive statistical profile. While the MJHL is a lower-tiered league compared to “Major Junior” leagues like the Western Hockey League (WHL), there are talented MJHL hockey players who move on to leagues like the WHL and other high-level opportunities each year.

High-Level Players not returning:

  • Hayden Paupanekis – WHL
  • Jett Lajoie – WHL

Two of 2023 NAHC Champion Team Manitoba’s key forwards were Hayden Paupanekis and Jett Lajoie, where Paupanekis had 12 points in 6 NAHC games as the #1 centre for the team, and Jett Lajoie had 8 points in 6 NAHC games in a ‘top-six winger’ role. Both players have since moved on to the top junior hockey league in western Canada, the WHL. Pauapnekis played for the Spokane Chiefs this season, putting up 20 points in 61 games as a 16-year-old rookie. Lajoie played for the Prince George Cougars, putting up 10 points in 60 games as a 16-year-old rookie himself. Born one day apart, these two players will both be 17 going into next season, meaning that they still have another year before their NHL draft year. Having each played a full season for their WHL team at age 16 is impressive since very few hockey players get that opportunity. Team Manitoba was fortunate to have Paupanekis and Lajoie on the 2023 team, and since they have moved on to Major Junior hockey, their team’s seasons will likely continue until May, making them unable to play in the 2024 NAHC. They will be missed, but Team Manitoba is so proud of them for their accomplishments so far and we are excited to see them continue their WHL journeys as they work towards careers in professional hockey.

Conclusion

Overall, it is clear that the 2023 Team Manitoba hockey team was full of talented players, as a large portion of that team has since gone on to play Junior “A” level hockey, with two players playing in the WHL this season. As we look towards the 2024 roster in Grande Prairie, 10 returning players will have a chance to “defend the crown” along with some new faces. Time will tell on the success of this year’s Team Manitoba athletes, but many promising pieces to this year’s team could end up in high-level hockey leagues one year later, just as we unpacked here for the 2023 roster, in their “NAHC+1”.

The 2024 NAHC tournament begins in Grande Prairie on May 6th – make sure to stay connected via MASRC socials and the NAHC 2024 website to watch the future of Indigenous hockey!

Written by Nick Lacoste.

NT5

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