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Remembering The Eel River Bar Hawks of the 1970s and 80s

This National Indigenous People's Day, we remember the Eel River Bar Hawks, the unstoppable team of Ugpi'ganjig hockey in 1970s and 1980s. The Hawks are still legendary across the Maritimes, and their legacy is preserved in many of the sports teams in Ugpi'ganjig who now also bear the name "Hawks".

According to Dan Caplin, of Ugpi'ganjig, the team won the New Brunswick championship a few times in the late 70s, but then in '79 or '80 they became the unstoppable Maritime Champions, with a 7-year winning streak, for which they are remembered to this day across the maritimes.

The league was called the "Maritime Indian Hockey Championship". It was only in the maritimes, and it was as fiercely contested as any sports title. The gameplay was vicious and serious. "This was not what you would call a gentleman hockey league," said Caplin "There was a lot of pride on the line for the communities. You'd call it a small war, probably, these tournaments. They were full contact, and they were allowed to have one fight per game..."

Ugpi'ganjig and Big Cove (Elsipogtog) were the two strongest teams, and bitter rivals. Caplin describes a situation not unlike European soccer, where fights could even break out in the stands or outside the arena. "Some of the men still talk about that; there was some bad blood that happened over the years."

In 1987, the Big Cove team got a new player named Everett Sanipass. Although he was only 16 or 17 at the time, "he just tore it up, and he was a big reason why Eel River Bar lost and Big Cove won." Sanipass was drafted to the NHL immediately, after which the Hawks scored two more Maritime Championships.

In the 1990s, the league dissipated. A lot of the older players aged out, and there was not as much interest from younger players. Eel River bar is still renowned for their athleticism, which is much more diverse today than it was in the 70's and 80's but still quite focused on Hockey. And the high intensity of those games, watched by people for miles around, in packed arenas, will never be forgotten.

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