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Joining Team Ontario was an unforgettable experience for two people with Wiikwemkoong roots, who brought home gold medals in hockey from the 2023 Canada Winter Games.
Left winger Jack Nesbitt, whose mother is from Wiikwemkoong on Manitoulin Island, found a new friend and mentor in Dustin Peltier, also from the First Nation and a member of Team Ontario’s coaching staff.
It was a hard-fought gold medal game versus Saskatchewan. Ontario was down 2-0 after the first period but fired back to tie the score by the end of the third period. Just shy of 28 minutes into three-on-three overtime, Team Ontario tipped the winning goal to top the podium.
“I’ve never witnessed a hockey game with that much excitement before,” said Peltier.
Both Peltier and Nesbitt were new to the Team Ontario stage. Peltier was scouted for the role through the Aboriginal Apprentice Coach Program, a partnership between the Coaching Association of Canada and the Aboriginal Sports Circle.
Peltier normally serves as a scout for the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but he’s coached minor hockey in the past.
He’s also held a position on the business development team at the Ottawa Senators.
His role with Team Ontario was a video coach—he said he viewed the match at a distance and through video replays, offering different perspectives from the head coaches on the bench.
The Team Ontario opportunity also allowed him to get on-ice coaching experience through the evaluation and training camps.
Nesbitt said he was nearly in tears when he learned he’d be part of Ontario’s roster at the Canada Winter Games. He said the gold-medal game was “the most incredible I’ve felt in my whole life.”
As someone who had never played at the provincial level, he stated he had to adjust to both the faster pace and playing as a left winger, as opposed to his usual role as a centre.
One of Nesbitt’s key roles was on penalty-kill, meaning he provided extra protection for his team’s net when one of their players was off-ice for a penalty.
Nesbitt is currently the captain of the Lambton Junior Sting AAA U-16 team in Sarnia, Ont., where he grew up.
Both Peltier and Nesbitt said they were grateful to have each other as part of the Ontario squad, as this level of hockey was a new experience for both of them. Peltier stated they were often “checking in on each other and supporting one another throughout the entire process.”
As Nesbitt approaches his draft year and looks to get into the Ontario Hockey League, he said he’d like to be able to work with Peltier again.
“I would for sure hope to be on a team with him or, you know, play for him in the future anytime,” he said. In fact, Peltier was the one who suggested Team Ontario watch Nesbitt play at a tournament in September. The team managers were ready to pick Nesbitt after his first shift on the ice, Peltier said.