An Indigenous hockey player is unsure of his next steps after the team he was going to play for folded.
Blaise Ovayuak, originally from Tuktoyaktuk, had just missed his flight to Salt Lake City, Utah, when he found out the mishap saved him an unnecessary trip to the U.S.
“One of the players there texted me saying that they don’t have enough players,” he said. “I was heartbroken.”
Ovayuak was going to play for the Utah Altitude of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL), a Junior A tier two league.
The Utah Altitude posted a statement to the WSHL website.
“We are disappointed to announce that the Utah Altitude has ceased operations effective immediately. In the best interest of our players and the WSHL, we have executed trades that will ensure all of our contracted players will have the opportunity to continue playing this season,” the statement reads.
Now the 17-year-old Ovayuak needs to decide what to do next and whether to continue pursuing a sport he has loved since childhood.
From Tuktoyaktuk to the GMHL
Ovayuak first started playing hockey when he was nine-years-old, living in Tuktoyaktuk.
“We didn’t really have a team and it’s just like whoever showed up,” he explains.
He says he was inspired to play after watching young stars like Taylor Hall on the Edmonton Oilers.
Ovayuak then moved to Inuvik where he played he played for another two seasons.
His family moved to Lethbridge when he turned 14 and he had the chance to play hockey at a higher level.
“When I first moved to the south, it was my first year in Bantam hockey… That’s when hitting starts. So I didn’t know any of that and then first game, first shift, I got absolutely rocked and then I just flipped the switch in my brain and I said to keep my head up each time,” he said. “After I found out I could hit people back, I was hitting anyone I can.”
The six foot Ovayuak plays both forward and defence.
While in Lethbridge, he had the chance to play in the Alberta Native Hockey Provincials.
“I got selected from a reserve outside of Lethbridge to go play with them in Edmonton,” Ovayuak says.
This is where he was discovered by the Slave Lake Ice Dogs, a part of the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League (GMHL), before playing for the Gibbons Pioneers.
He said when he started playing down south he was worried about facing racism, but was happy to discover lots of other Indigenous players on his teams.
“With all the racism happening with sports, especially with Natives… But when I first went to [Slave Lake], 80 per cent of the team was Native and I found that really cool,” he said.
Before learning the team was folding, Ovayuak told CKLB he hoped to be an inspiration to upcoming Indigenous hockey players.
“That was my plan for people back home. Like if you put your mind to something, you can get it done,” he said.
Ovayuak still hopes to impress the youth, with whatever he decides to do next.
He says he could still play as a loan player for the Gibbons Pioneers, but is also considering focusing on schooling.