Former NHL player Reggie Leach and Lynndra Peltier, both residents of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, celebrate with the Little NHL championship trophy after their Northern Stars team won the girls’ Under-13 division.

By Sam Laskaris

MARKHAM – The Northern Stars, a collection of tweens, might have entered this year’s Little Native Hockey League tournament a bit shorthanded, but that didn’t end up being a problem.

The girls’ Under-13 squad was formed as several individuals were keen to compete in the event, often simply called the Little NHL, but their respective communities did not have enough players to ice their own squads.

So, the Northern Stars were put together and entered in the eight-team girls’ Under-13 competitive division. The team consisted of eight skaters and one goalie.

Team members were from Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) First Nation, Rainy River First Nation, Batchewana First Nation, and Couchiching First Nation.

Former National Hockey League player Reggie Leach, a resident of AOK First Nation, agreed to serve as a co-coach for the Stars.

The squad ended up winning all four of its matches at the 50th annual Little NHL, which concluded on Thursday.

The club edged the Six Nations Blackhawks 3-2 in its championship final held at the Angus Glen Community Centre in Markham.

Louis Bruyere was the Stars’ other co-coach.

“We had a couple of girls from Rainy River First Nation who had played for AOK last year,” he said. “And they didn’t have a head coach for it so they asked me because I coach a couple of the girls in our league in Fort Frances Minor Hockey. So, I came down and brought some kids with me and the rest is history. We won the gold.”

The majority of the Stars’ players didn’t know one another prior to their first outing at the tourney.

“The first game they all came and met each other,” said Bruyere, whose daughter Cedar was the captain of the squad. “And they just went out there and they clicked out there. They were all feeding off of each other out there.”

Bruyere was thrilled he was joined on the Stars’ bench by Leach, a member of the 1975 Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers.

“It was an amazing experience to be out there with him,” Bruyere said. “He had a lot of great insight. And the girls listened to him really well. He was nice and calm out there with them. And it showed out on the ice.”

Bruyere wasn’t concerned with the number of players on the Stars’ roster.

“We only had eight [skaters],” he said. “But it looked like we had a full team out there.”

For Lynndra Peltier, an AOK First Nation member, this marked the ninth time she had participated in the Little NHL tourney. Though she had won a B championship before, this marked the first year she was part of a club that won its A division.

And how did that feel?

“Amazing,” Peltier said.

She added she was somewhat concerned her squad only had a total of nine players.

“But I knew we could push through,” she said.

Peltier played a crucial role for her team in the tournament. She propelled her side into its final by scoring the game-winning shootout goal in the Stars’ 2-1 semi-final victory over the Akwesasne Wild.

Peltier’s mother Kendra, who served as the Stars’ manager, was part of the team’s post-game locker room celebrations.

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