The Rankin Miners defeated the Kivalliq Canucks 6-2 to claim the A Division championship, while Team Todd nipped Whale Cove 5-3 to claim the B Division banner at the Terence Tootoo Memorial (TTM) senior men’s hockey championship in front of a jam-packed arena in Rankin Inlet on March 10.
The Miners defeated Naujaat 6-3 in one semifinal, while the Canucks defeated the Rankin Chiefs 5-2 in the other to set-up the A Division final.
In the B Division semifinals Team Todd got past Chesterfield Inlet and Whale Cove defeated Arviat, both by identical 5-4 scores to set-up the championship tilt.
TTM committee member and Miners defenseman Troy Aksalnik came out of retirement after four years away from the game to suit-up with his best friend, former NHLer Jordin Tootoo, for the tournament.
It was the first time in two decades the two played on the same team in a tournament.
Aksalnik said it didn’t seem real as he and Tootoo suited-up together for the first game.
He said they had played together in exhibition games and pick-up hockey, but this was for real and that made all the difference.
“It was amazing to be sitting next to my best friend, who had been in the NHL for 15 years, getting ready to play a meaningful game again,” said Aksalnik.
“I was pretty nervous, having not played in four years and the nerves are very real until you get that first shift under your belt and it’s all good after that.
“Having the two divisions really worked well.
“Historically, between the Avataq and TTM, there’s usually eight to 10 mercy-rule games a tournament and there was not a single one this year, so that was pretty cool.”
Aksalnik said this year’s TTM was anybody’s tournament in both the A and B divisions.
He said, hopefully, all teams will return in 2020 and Iqaluit may decide to return after being on hiatus the past two years.
“It was a really nice story, seeing Team Todd win the B Division this year after being in the tournament for so many years and only winning a game here and there,” said Aksalnik.
“Having so many games live streamed this year was great and Gabe Karlik, James Sandy, David Ningeongan and Tommy Bruce did a great job – Gabe and James on the technical side, David with his play-by-play commentary and Tommy doing colour.
“I watched a couple of games online while I was home resting for my games and the job they did was pretty amazing.
“What I didn’t like was people complaining that they should do a better job. People need to understand these guys are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and they’re still learning, so have some patience.”
The TTM was five days of magic for Jason Todd, who has been entering a team of guys just out for fun and a game of hockey for almost two decades.
In many ways, it’s been a long, hard road for Team Todd, which would win the odd game over the years but was never a real threat when the tournament was a single division.
Todd said winning the B Division title was awesome.
He said when he first started Team Todd, he usually took a bunch of lads who were told they weren’t good enough to play on Rankin’s top teams.
“We tried to give our Rankin teams – and the rest of the regional teams – a hard time, win the odd game and have some fun,” said Todd.
“This year I called a couple of lads back home and got them to make a roster and send me the list.
“I went through it and said yes, no, yes, no to certain players. There were guys who were better players but I knew they wouldn’t work for one reason or another.
“We went through it three times until we came-up with a group of guys we felt would work really well together,
and they did.”
Nerves began to take over as Team Todd prepared for its semifinal game – uncharted waters until this year.
Todd said he was beyond excited as the game drew near.
He said while he didn’t show any emotion on the outside, on the inside he was having a lot of fun and jumping for joy over the team doing so well.
“We were kind of down between the second and third period of the championship game because we were trailed 3-1. You have to credit Alfred Voisey, Shawn Smith and Robert Kabvitok for pumping the guys up before we went out to play the third,” said Todd.
“We got excited again, shortened the bench for the first half of the third period, our two top lines took over and we won 5-3.
“Having two divisions was long overdue. It was fantastic to watch these teams in so many close games, with not one mercy-rule game all week.
“Both divisions being so competitive made it fun and exciting for the players and the crowds.”
The TTM became more magical for Todd when he bought one raffle ticket and won the top prize of a new snowmobile.
And, the week was such a wild ride for Team Todd, they hope to bring back the same team next year.
Todd said the players have talked about keeping the team together to defend its B Division title.
He said it would be awesome to come back together as a team in 2020.
“I think most of the guys are excited about returning next year to defend our cup,” said Todd. “We made history as the first Team Todd to go the final and we made the best of it.
“The lads are all pretty pumped, happy and excited over the fact we went all the way. It was quite the ride and I hope we do it again next year.”