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Northern NHL tour a way for players to 'give back' to fans

CBC

NHL players are in Inuvik, N.W.T., today as part of their community tour to raise money for young aboriginal athletes.

They will play a game at the town’s community arena tonight.

The event is big for the Arctic town of about 4,000 people.

“This is a great opportunity for us to give back to people who support us, who cheer us on, and especially for the North — not too often you get NHL guys come up and play some hockey,” said Jordin Tootoo, one of the hockey stars on the tour. Tootoo is from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, and plays for the Detroit Red Wings.

One local fan, Matthew Skinner, will be playing against the professionals.

“The midgets tonight are going to be playing with and against the hockey players… so it's going to be a lot of fun and nerve-wracking,” said Skinner.

Brian Ballas-Kuzman also plays defence on the local midget team.

“We just found out a couple of nights ago, I can't sleep. I am pretty excited,” he said.

The arena in Inuvik holds just over 300 people, and tickets are sold out for tonight’s event.

The Ottawa Senators now rival the Oilers, Flames and Canucks as the favourite NHL team in Deline, N.W.T.

The players visited the community of about 500 people Monday.

Local hockey player John Paul Yukon, 19, said Edmonton and Vancouver were the most popular NHL teams in the community. But after yesterday's visit, many people may be switching to the Ottawa Senators since several of the team's players are part of the northern tour.

“There's going to be a lot. I know I'm going to be one. I bought an Ottawa jersey during the summer and I got six of them to sign it,” he said.

Whitney Andre, 13, said it was amazing that the players were in her community. She even got a chance to chat with them.

“I wasn't shy. I asked if they liked it up here, they all said yeah. And I asked if they were enjoying the trip - they said yeah. Then I said is it cold up here for you guys, and they said ‘yeah, my hands are freezing, my feet are cold’," she said.

Yukon was up late the night before scanning YouTube for fights, goals and plays by some of the players who came up.

Yukon laced up for a quick skate on the outdoor ice in front of the players. He got some feedback from Senators defenceman Marc Methot.

“He told me some good things about what I'm doing too. He's like, ‘You really look like a good player’, he said ‘it looks like you skate good’ so it really got me hyped up,” said Yukon.

The players were treated to a community feast, lessons in Dene hand games. They also went out on dogsled and snowmobile rides, and braved the —16 temperature to take in some muskox hunting.

The next stop on the tour is Whitehorse.

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