The Long and Grinding Road

Tye Hand was behind the net, turning to flick the puck back to his defensive partner, when a check from behind drove his head into the dasher board, right where the glass meets the boards.

“I didn’t black out. But as you see sometimes when guys get hit, their legs kind of give out as they’re trying to skate, that happened to me. I was trying to get back to the bench and ended up crawling there.”

This was concussion number seven for Tye, one of Yellowknife’s most promising young hockey players, who was then playing for Regina’s WHL team, the Pats. It brought an end to his 2013/14 season, and he decided to take the following year off to recover.

“I was having probably the best year ever, and to have something like that happen… it was tough to live with, but you have to do what’s best for your health.”

The 19-year-old has been back in Yellowknife for the past year-and-a-half, working at Overlanders and the golf club, schooling everyone in the YK men’s league and training up for his return to Junior Hockey this fall in Drumheller.

Like many Yellowknifers, he grew up playing hockey. But unlike most kids who dream of playing pro hockey, Tye was noticed at a young age and his talent was cultivated. After he finished grade 8, he moved to Kelowna to attend an elite hockey academy, The Pursuit of Excellence, with aspiring hockey stars from around the world. He’d go to school in the mornings and play hockey all afternoon and on the weekends.

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After his first year, the Everett Silvertips (WHL) drafted him, though he ended up spending the year playing for the Junior A Drumheller Dragons. The following year he was traded from Everett to Regina.

“My first memory in the league was my first fight. My mom’s probably going to laugh when she reads the article, because I said ‘my first fight.’ I got worked over. This guy is 6’4, 220 lbs. I think I landed one punch and he took it to me. I woke up right after that and was like, ok, here we go.”

The 6’3, 195lbs defenseman has always played a physical game – “I don’t like to get pushed around on the ice so if somebody does something I don’t like, I’m not scared to drop the gloves” – hence his many concussions. He’s still set on a career in the NHL, and had several teams interested in him while he was playing for the Pats; though as he says, “Most of the teams know I have a history with concussions, and that might scare some of them off.”

It all depends on this coming season. And whatever happens, he’s proud and thankful for all he’s done so far: “Not very many people are fortunate enough to go through and accomplish what I’ve accomplished. It’s very competitive down south and even to be able to fit in the with the guys I play with down there – like I played with Curtis Lazar, he plays with the Ottawa Senators now, he was my captain in Bantam. It was unreal to hear my name called and be able to wear the Pats uniform.”

What are your earliest memories of Yellowknife?

As far back as I can remember would probably be learning how to ride my bike at the Range Lake parking lot with my dad. I had my sister’s purple two-wheel bike. They have a bus lane with a big pole in the middle, so I’d just ride all the way around there. And when I was first learning I had no idea what I was doing, so I’d start going and fall over to the side. And one time I actually had it, but I didn’t turn and I drove straight into the ditch.

I learned to skate at the old Gerry Murphy Arena. I don’t really remember much about it, but remember always looking forward to skating lessons, and getting out on the ice with my dad and beating him in laps. My first time playing hockey – I’d been in power skating before that so I knew how to skate somewhat. But once you get a stick in your hands, it’s totally different. Every memory of trying to skate, you just don’t remember how, it’s just get the puck and try to go through everybody and put it in the net.

What’s your favourite thing about Yellowknife?

I’d have to say the weather. You get a mix of everything, in the summer it gets nice and hot, and in the winter it gets nice and cold, so you really get a taste of everything up here. And the daylight in the summer is amazing.

What’s your least favourite thing about Yellowknife?

The gas is expensive, that’s one thing that’s not very good. I got an F150, and it’s about $120 bucks to fill up the tank. It usually lasts two-and-a-half weeks, so it’s not too bad. But the bank account definitely takes a hit.

How do you spend your winters?

When I was playing Junior, you’d leave in August and you’d be in Regina for a month to start the year. Then we’d get on a bus and drive to all our games. So one weekend we’d play in Regina, then the next night we’d play in Saskatoon. We’d get up, go to the rink and have a practice, get on the bus and drive to Saskatoon, play the game, get back on the bus and drive back. I logged a lot of miles on the bus.

The season is about 70, 72 games. Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Brandon, all those ones we’d do day trips. All the rest would be road trips. We’d leave Regina on a day we didn’t have a game and drive to, say, Edmonton. We’d be there for a night, play the game, and the next day we’d probably play in Red Deer or Calgary. We stayed in hotels and got treated like royalty. It was a really good team. We had quite a few little parties that our coaches didn’t know about.

How do you spend your summers?

I do lots of training and working out. On a typical day it would be an hour and a half of cardio, sprints or long distance, and then probably half an hour working on quick feet. Then I do about an hour and half or two hours in the weight room. It’s pretty demanding to get to where you need to be, but if you want to be there, it’s not that bad. I also work at the golf club three or four days a week, and I’m actually heading off to Hawaii for a couple weeks soon.

What kind of opportunities have you found in Yellowknife that you don’t think you’d find elsewhere?

Growing up here you get lots of opportunities to be on the ice. There’s not as many teams as in a big city like Calgary, where they’re on the ice maybe once, twice a week. Here you’re on the ice three or four times a week and there are lots of coaches in town that know their stuff.

For the Canada Winter Games, down in B.C, they would have regional tryouts, then they’d have north and south tryouts, and from there, a select few from each would go into a big tryout and they’d pick the team from there. Here, we didn’t really have too many people sign up for the tryouts.

The teams up here aren’t as good as the ones down south, but the opportunities to go to Canada Games are amazing. For us, we got to go to Halifax in 2011, and got to play in the big rinks there. And for some of the kids up here who have never seen a big rink like that, it was nice to be able to play in one. We had a couple guys from way up north, in Tuk, and they’d never seen anything like it.

Are you a Yellowknife Lifer?

I think so, it’s definitely home. I couldn’t see myself living anywhere else in Canada. This is definitely my home.


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