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Indigenous Hockey Showcase in Gatineau, Que. gives athletes chance to shine

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More than 100 young First Nations hockey players took to the Slush Puppie Centre in Gatineau Friday for the inaugural Indigenous Hockey Showcase.

The event seeks to connect up-and-coming Indigenous athletes with U.S. prep schools to give them a better sense of where the sport can lead them in life.

Athletes were hard at work displaying their skills in front of the post-secondary scouters. McGill University took charge of the testing, measuring the speed and endurance of individual players.

Behind the glass – event organizer and former NHL player John Chabot watches with pride.

John: Former NHL star John Chabot greets the young hockey players at the Indigenous Hockey Showcase in Gatineau, Que. Apr. 12, 2024 (Sam Houpt/CTV News)

"We're so happy with the turnout," he said. "We want the coaches to be able to see the kids in practice, how they work, how they listen, and their attention to detail."

Which means the stakes are high for the young athletes.

"I'm a bit excited for the scouts that are watching," said 15-year-old Keaton Atsynia.

"It's a little scary," said teammate Jaxton McComber.

Reid Brascoupé was taking the pressure in stride: "Pretty confident!"

For some, the day holds special meaning. The event is dedicated to one of its planners and former player Charly Washipabano - the first James Bay Cree to play NCAA hockey.

His son Zane was in attendance Friday and ready to take on the day.

"I came for the showcase today that my late dad was working on," Zane said. "We'll get to show our power, how good we are, and show what we're like [to the scouters]."

Nine First Nations communities were represented during the showcase - some traveling from across Quebec and Ontario to participate.

"It's kind of cool seeing all the Crees here," said Zane.

"All the Indigenous girls get the chance to play far away – I'm pretty excited," said Amberly Neposh.

Athletes performing sidestep drills for a coach at the Indigenous Hockey Showcase in Gatineau, Que. Apr. 12, 2024 (Sam Houpt/CTV News)

From here, the plan is to grow the showcase to include all age groups.

"If you're an under 13, you get on the radar," explained Chabot. "If you're an under 15, you're at the next step, and under 17 you're at that point where you can be invited the following season."

Even if some may not make the NHL, Chabot is a firm believer in the life experience able to be gained from the sport.

"You can translate that to every other part of your life, and if you're willing to do that, hockey can be a vehicle to give you an opportunity."

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