Iqaluit claims Polar Bear Plate

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Austin Caza dented the twine with a beautiful overtime marker to give the Baffin Blizzard (Iqaluit) a thrilling 3-2 win over Rankin Inlet to claim the 2020 Polar Bear Plate (PBP) juvenile/junior hockey championship in front of a sold-out crowd at the new Rankin Inlet arena this past Sunday, Feb. 23.

Team Rankin Inlet had fought back from a 2-1 deficit to tie the game and force the overtime session.

Rankin got past Coral Harbour 3-2 in their semifinal, while Iqaluit took it to Whale Cove 8-1 in theirs to set-up the championship tilt.

Austin Caza, from left, Andrew Pearce, Peter Akavak and Kavin Kullualik of the Baffin Blizzard accept the Polar Bear Plate championship trophy after Baffin defeated Rankin Inlet 3-2 in overtime at the new Rankin arena on Feb. 23. Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

Coral Harbour defeated Whale Cove 6-5 to claim bronze at the event.

Also competing were Naujaat, Rankin Rock, Arviat and Baker Lake.

The top three scorers (goals/assists/points) at the tourney were  Baffin’s Austin Caza 11-10-21, Baffin’s Andrew Pearce 9-8-17 and Whale Cove’s JC Ollie 7-7-14.

Iqaluit head coach Todd Gardner was behind the bench for his ninth PBP tourney this year.

Gardner said it was exciting to be part of the first PBP held at Rankin’s new arena and the team was very happy to claim this year’s title.

He said the final was an incredible hockey game that could have gone either way.

“They (Rankin) were all-over us for a good part of the overtime period and could have very easily won that game,” said Gardner.

“We got a lucky bounce at the end to get free in their zone and that was the difference.”

Iqaluit cruised through the round-robin segment of the PBP and Gardner said that’s not always a good thing.

He said Iqaluit was definitely in the weaker of the two divisions, and he knew not really being challenged during the round robin would become a problem at the end of the playoffs.

“Rankin had a pretty good team with lots of speed but, in the end, our guys pulled it off and we claimed the final game.

“Our goalie in this tournament, Seth Ningeongan of Rankin Inlet, called me this past year and wanted to play with the Iqaluit team because he wasn’t able to play with the Rankin team.

“I just want to see guys play. I don’t want guys to be sitting out and not playing, especially a goalie with his talent.

“He wanted to play with us again this year, so we took him on and he was named best goalie of the tournament.”

Gardner said the new arena in Rankin is a beautiful building.

He said it’s a lot of fun to play in the new building, but he still has a soft spot for Rankin’s old arena.

“I really liked the atmosphere in the old place.

“The big crowds, people hanging over the glass and the loud music created a really special atmosphere in that building.

“But this is a nice, modern, beautiful new arena that was really needed by this town, which loves hockey so much.

“So I’ll be really excited to keep coming back here for years to come.”

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