Canada’s North is known for its natural beauty, remoteness and arctic climate. If Ryan O’Connor gets his way, it’ll also be known for hockey and the talent it has the potential to produce.
O’Connor, an assistant coach with Team White at Canada’s national under-17 development camp, is the lone participant from Hockey North, one of Hockey Canada’s 13 member branches that administers the game in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
A teacher by trade, O’Connor moved to the remote town of Arviat, Nunavut (population 2,300) after university. “My aunt lived in Iqaluit for many years, and she had a lot of nice things to say about the territory. An opportunity came up, and I decided to take it.”
Naturally, he brought his passion for hockey along with him, although there were some challenges when he first got involved with the Arviat Amaqut Minor Hockey Association. “We had no arena when I first moved up there, it was under renovations and the contractor went bankrupt, so we had no ice for the first year I was there.”
Despite this obstacle – a fairly significant one, considering the integral role ice plays in the game – O’Connor was able to help the community get its minor hockey program back on track, increasing registration and putting in place several successful programs.
O’Connor is passionate about growing hockey in the North, and adapts to the challenges the region faces. “The list of excuses could be endless, but we have to use the resources we have to do the best we can.
“There’s no roads, it’s all air travel. It costs a lot to host tournaments or have teams attend them. It’s hard for kids to get enrolled in minor hockey and pay for equipment and training. But it’s surprising what we can do with what we have. There’s a passion for the game, just like there is everywhere else in Canada.”
O’Connor is a great example of that passion, getting equipment from the NHL Players’ Association and new uniforms for his association, as well as fundraising for teams to travel to tournaments in Winnipeg, Man., and other more southerly Canadian cities (while Arviat is the southernmost community in Nunavut, it is still only accessible by air, sea or snowmobile).
The passion for the game has led him from his local minor hockey association in Arviat to working with Hockey North, and then coaching positions with the U18 Male Team North, which competed at the 2015 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, and the U15 Male Team Nunavut, which competed at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games. When the opportunity to be part of the coaching staff at the national under-17 camp came up, he jumped at the chance.
This week in Calgary is O’Connor’s first experience with Hockey Canada, and he’s looking forward to taking what he learns back to Hockey North. He has worked with coach development programs for the past few seasons, and says there is already a noticeable difference in the skill level of the players thanks to the implementation ofdevelopment programs and other opportunities.
While there was an initial adjustment period when O’Connor got involved with hockey in the North, he believes that the region has plenty of potential when it comes to developing on-ice talent.
“It’s just a matter of embracing their culture, and also educating them on how hockey operates outside of the territories. It’s kind of a hybrid of what works for the Inuit in their communities and then what works for moving the players on throughout the level of development and trying to create a development program throughout the territories so we can see more players move on to the Program of Excellence in the future”
If he keeps it up, O’Connor won’t be the only representative from Hockey North at future Program of Excellence camps. “The ultimate end goal is to put kids through to this national program. I’m looking forward to getting more competitive in the future so we can show the other territories and provinces that we can compete.”
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Coordinator, Media Relations
Coordinator, Media Relations