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Chief Thunderstick tournament provides homecoming for LIU Sharks star Carrigan Umpherville

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A role model in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation, the legacy of Carrigan Umpherville continues to grow. Among the most accomplished female ice hockey players from Manitoba in the last decade, she is currently among the star players for the Long Island University Sharks. Also enjoying the opportunity to grace the ice at the 2022 and 2023 Fred Sasakamoose Chief Thunderstick women’s tournaments, the combination of character and determination stand as the hallmarks of such a promising career.

Growing up alongside Kennesaw Miswaggon, the 2019 National Aboriginal Hockey Championship (NAHC) MVP and 2023 U Sports bronze medalist with the UBC Thunderbirds, and Saige McKay, both blueliners, their collaborative efforts provide a beacon of hope for youth in their community, instilling the confidence to believe in themselves. Certainly, all three made significant sacrifices, leaving home as teenagers to pursue the hockey dream. Miswaggon was recruited to Balmoral Hall while Umpherville and McKay played for Pilot Mound Academy, 800 km from their hometown of Cross Lake, Worth noting, all three were part of Manitoba’s gold medal roster at the 2018 NAHC.

Undoubtedly, their friendship served as a source of inspiration, helping remove feelings of isolation while fostering a sense of community. Yet, the distance only widened as their careers evolved.

Such a skill set resulted in the opportunity to play in the United States, allowing Umpherville the opportunity to skate for the Boston Shamrocks, including fellow Northern Manitobans Julie Albert and Shayna Moore, and the Long Island University Sharks, where she scored the first goal in program history. Sharing this journey alongside McKay on these teams, each sharing a Shamrock tattoo as a visual and emotional reminder of their journey, the opportunity to be teammates strengthened the bonds of friendship.

“Saige and I have played hockey together for a long time. Having her at Long Island has been great, and playing with her at Chief Thunderstick the first two years was amazing and a fun experience to be a part of. We have played together in many other native tournaments, but Chief Thunderstick was by far the best one.”

Beyond the on-ice competition, the greatest reward for Umpherville is the loving support of her parents, the greatest influences on her career. Demonstrating an exceptional teamwork, her mom graciously gives her time for the Cross Lake Lady Islanders, a highly successful club team of which Umpherville has proudly worn their colors at Chief Thunderstick..

Throughout her early years in the game, Umpherville’s father played a key role as mentor. Serving in a coaching capacity, his influence instilled the sense of perseverance necessary to excel. Both on-hand as Umpherville and the Lady Islanders reached the championship game versus Mistawasis Sage Strong, a rematch from 2022, it provided a symbolic thank you for their support.

“My mom (Michelle) and dad (Stefan Umpherville) have taught me a lot about hockey growing up. Both made sure that I stuck with it and I am obviously fortunate that I did, because it has taken my very far in my career and I am thankful for it.

Both of my parents have always played a major role in my hockey career. Having both of them with me at Chief Thunderstick and having them watch me grow into the player and person I am today is all due to their unwavering support. Again, I am very fortunate that they get to experience Chief Thunderstick with me and watch me play.”

Reflecting on the 22-23 season, it stands as Umpherville’s most memorable, allowing her the chance to shine on both sides of the border. Among the elite players for the Sharks, providing solid playmaking ability on the offense, her 17 assists left the team. Finishing second with 27 points, her assist in the NEWHA championship game proved essential in the opportunity to qualify for the NCAA tournament, an unprecedented first in Sharks lore.

Despite a lopsided outcome versus the eventual national champion Wisconsin Badgers in the opening game, the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament provided a strong sense of accomplishment. A highly valuable learning experience for Umpherville and her fellow Sharks, this exceptional milestone for the program has only fueled the drive to return to such a stage in 2024.

In the aftermath of the Sharks playoff run, Umpherville returned to her roots. Appearing at the second annual Chief Thunderstick women’s ice hockey tournament, the opportunity to compete served as part of an empowering message to grow the game.

Wearing the jersey of the Cross Lake Lady Islanders once again, her trademark number 22 adorning the back, Umpherville was reunited with Miswaggon and McKay, rekindling memories of earlier years on the ice together. Belonging to a talented roster featuring captain Pamela Tanner, plus a trio of stars from the University of Manitoba Bisons, including Trechelle Bunn, Dana Goertzen and Kate Gregoire, the Lady Islanders remained one of the most talented rosters at Chief Thunderstick.

Reaching the championship game for the second consecutive year, the thrill was only exceeded by playing in front of a national audience on APTN, providing a combination of cultural relevance and a major league feeling. With the national anthem sung in Cree, the celebration of such skilled talent from Turtle Island (North America), is destined to become an important date on the Canadian hockey calendar.

“Playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in my college career was definitely a dream come true. I hope that for my last year of college hockey (2023-24) that I get to experience that again.

As for participating in the Finals for the second time at Chief Thunderstick, it is always a challenge to get that far into the tournament considering the talent and grit of other teams. It is not easy to make it that far.

Being on APTN was actually really cool. Having my hometown of Cross Lake be a part of the Finals and supporting our team was a really good feeling and to make our community proud in general.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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