More than 360 of the best young aboriginal hockey players from across Canada have gathered in Halifax this week for a tournament that celebrates skill and culture.

The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships are taking place at the BMO Centre in Bedford.

The tournament, which showcases the top under-18 male and female aboriginal players from across the country, has been held annually since 2001. This is the first time it’s being hosted by Nova Scotia.

“Our kids are starving for opportunities, our First Nation kids right across the country, on reserve, off reserve, they’re starving for opportunities, and this is exactly what it provides,” says Greg Hopf, a board member of the National Aboriginal Sports Circle.

“A lot of cultures are dying…and just the fact that all these aboriginal players come together to play in a tournament is a really good opportunity,” says Shannon Baetz, a member of Team North.

Both the male and female divisions are comprised of eight teams, which represent all provinces and territories.

When the players aren’t on the ice, they are interacting with their fellow competitors building life-long friendships.

“Everybody on this team becomes best friends over the week, over the past couple years I guess… pretty good friendships being bonded, everyone stays in communication after the tournament,” says Casey Ward, captain of Team Atlantic.

“Out of all the tournaments I’ve been to, this has to be my favourite,” says Baetz, who is competing in the tournament for the fifth straight year.

Hopf says the tournament also serves as a national stage for aboriginal players.

“We have NHL players who are currently playing in the NHL, that this is where they got their start… this is where they got their look. This is where the scouts said, “I like that kid, I want that kid on my team”, says Hopf.

Tournament alumni include professional hockey players such as two time Stanley Cup champion Dwight King of the LA Kings, Calgary Flames forward Micheal Ferland, and Bridgette Lacquette, who recently made her debut for the Canadian Women’s National Team.

Linden McCorrister, captain of Team Manitoba, says those players are his inspiration.

“Everyone wants to make it to the NHL… so getting to play here is just another step closer”, says McCorrister.

The week-long tournament ends Saturday, with the Gold and Bronze Medal games being played at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.

Team Saskatchewan looks to defend their championships in both the male and female divisions.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Amanda Debison