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Abby Bercier an essential leader for Mixed Nations at Chief Thunderstick

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Serving in the role of assistant captain for the Mixed Nations team, Abigail (Abby) Constant Bercier provided an essential presence at the 2023 Chief Thunderstick tournament. With more a decade of competitive experience, the highly skilled blueliner, originally from The Pas, Manitoba, enjoyed numerous empowering appearances at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC).

Belonging to the Ospaskwayak Cree Nation, Bercier’s hockey odyssey also included NCAA play. Spending one season with the SUNY Plattsburgh Cardinals, followed by skating for the Wisconsin Superior Yellowjackets, gracing the ice at Chief Thunderstick builds on such a proud body of work. Simultaneously resulting in an exciting new chapter for Bercier, the magic of the tournament defines a time of exciting growth for Indigenous sport.

As this year’s roster featured a unique mélange, players from different generations connected through heritage. The culture of collaboration marked a strong sense of pride for Bercier. Reaching the semifinals, clinching third place, the achievement marked part of a grander narrative for Bercier.

Mixed Nations at the 2023 Chief Thunderstick tournament

As the Opaskwayak Cree Nation iced a men’s team, dubbed the Winterhawks, Bercier felt a tremendous sense of pride. Also qualifying for the semifinals, several familiar faces on the roster enriched the overall experience

“I was very proud of our team qualifying for the semifinals, as our team had a mixture of girls who were older veterans in their 30s along with younger girls, who are still playing Midget AAA. We played very well as a team and never gave up. 

Another favourite moment of the tournament was watching my cousins on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Winterhawks. They made it to the Final 4 this year on the men’s side and they never gave up. Three out of the final four were all from Northern Manitoba as well.’

With a structure featuring leadership by committee, including sisters Delaney and Hailey Ross, having both played professionally in Poland, along with veterans from the 2022 roster, Nyms Albert and Taylor Durocher. Worth noting, Bercier and Delaney Ross were both teammates with Team Saskatchewan at the 2014 NAHC, winning the gold medal.

Undoubtedly, the sense of teamwork and leadership leads to a highly compelling off ice effort. Working tirelessly, and admirably, to raise funds, the collaborative effort helps to positively shape the team culture, providing a feeling of reward upon the opening faceoff.

“Our Mixed Nation team was formed with the teammates I met at NAHC 2012 when I played with Team Saskatchewan. We have continued to play together since then. 

My teammates Delaney Ross, Hailey Ross, Nyms Albert, Taylor Durocher and I all make the decisions as a group. We do all the fundraising throughout the year since we do not get any sponsorship or funding from our band.”

Equally compelling, members of first and second place teams hold unique linkages to Bercier. Pamela McLeod Tanner, captain for the Cross Lake Lady Islanders, called Bercier a teammate for the Norman team competing at the 2010 Manitoba Winter Games. Both also belonged on the Team Manitoba roster from the 2010 NAHC, featuring Brigette Lacquette, one of the star players from SageStrong, the 2023 championship team. Chantal Larocque, another notable member of SageStrong, skated for Manitoba at the 2013 NAHC, which saw Bercier on the roster.

Reflecting on the meaning of the NAHC to her own career, highlighted by the rare feat of winning the gold medal with two different provinces, the greater legacy involves the lifelong friendships made.

As the NAHC signified major milestones in the careers of so many, the rise of the Chief Thunderstick tournament has emerged as the perfect complement. Proud to keep honouring her heritage, the parallel of growth, from the exceptional talent to increased importance, adds to the feeling of accomplishment.

“The memories I have of NAHC, spanning from 2010-2014 are some of my favourite to look back on. My first year, I played with Team Manitoba in Ottawa, where we won the gold. Plus, I was the youngest girl to make it. 

Brigette Laquette was also on the team and it was very special to watch and learn how she leads a team. I am still so close with all the girls who I met throughout the tournament. 

The competition gets stronger and stronger every year! I am so proud of how there are so many up and coming talented Indigenous players.”

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

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