Canada Winter Games excitement building

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Every time you turn around, there seems to be another major Games that the territory will be competing in. That’s the beauty of living in the North – never a dull moment.

Max Joy, seen during the 2018 Arctic Winter Games this past March, will be part of the first-ever Nunavut hockey team at the Canada Winter Games when they take the ice in Red Deer, Alta., this coming February. James McCarthy/NNSL photo
Max Joy, seen during the 2018 Arctic Winter Games this past March, will be part of the first-ever Nunavut hockey team at the Canada Winter Games when they take the ice in Red Deer, Alta., this coming February.
James McCarthy/NNSL photo

We’re now less than 100 days away from the big show in Red Deer, Alta., and Nunavut will have several athletes competing against the best in the country. I normally save my comments for Sports Talk but sometimes, I have some more things I have to say and anyone who knows me well enough will know I have a hard time keeping my trap shut when I’m rolling.

Here goes and while you’re reading, see if you can answer this question: who won Nunavut’s only Canada Games medal to date? I’ll tell you at the end.

Badminton

This is one of those sports where the age category goes up to U23. That’s right – there are players as old as 22 playing in this. I have always railed against anything older than U20 simply because what purpose does it serve for an adult to beat a teenager? Someone who could potentially go to the pub to celebrate their win?

Anyway, it is what it is and Nunavut will have a badminton team in the Games. The team was put together following the Nunavut Badminton Championships in Iqaluit earlier this month and the team members weren’t available as of press time but it’s a sure bet that the team will have a strong Sanikiluaq presence on it.

If Rankin Inlet is Hockeytown and Cambridge Bay is Basketballtown, Sanikiluaq is fast becoming Badmintontown, Nunavut. Stephen Keoughan has done a wonderful job with the community’s badminton players and there’s always a genuine sense of excitement whenever they’re around.

I got a good look at Davidee Kudluarok of Sanikiluaq at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games and I remarked to Keoughan that he was going to be a star. Best part about his situation is that if he sticks with it, he has at least this Canada Games and another Canada Games to go. He’s just one example of how good the factory in Sanikiluaq has become because there are many good players from the community.

There are also players from Baker Lake, Iqaluit and Grise Fiord who would be in with a shout to make the team as well but like any team from Nunavut, they would be in tough. Remember, there are players as old as 22 out there playing so any match has the potential to be a rough ride.

Hockey

For the first time, Nunavut will have a team playing hockey at the Canada Winter Games. It’s a boys team and it’s about time, I say.

Hockey is a U16 sport for the boys at the Canada Games although the team will have the luxury of having three one-year overage players on the team, the same deal the other two territories have. Helps with the competitiveness and considering the level of talent that will be on display, having a helping hand is always nice.

The team has already been picked and they’ve been out and about playing already; they played an exhibition series in Sarnia, Ont., this past summer and did quite well against some house-league teams from the minor hockey association there.

Now, that’s house-league and there’s nothing wrong with beating those types of teams. You need to instill a winning attitude and besides, winning is better than losing. But this won’t be any old tournament and there definitely won’t be any sort of house-league competition. In fact, there’s a very good chance everyone Nunavut faces will have several players playing at least AAA hockey.

The NWT and Yukon will definitely have AAA-level players on it as both territories have come together for the Yukon Rivermen program, a Tier 1 squad which plays through BC Hockey. Nunavut does have some talent playing down south right now, such as Bradley Nowdlak-Fraser of Iqaluit, who’s playing in Ontario, and Max Joy of Iqaluit, who’s playing in Saskatchewan.

The boys will be heading to Yellowknife for a tournament that will see them take on the NWT and Yukon teams and that will give the coaching staff a chance to finalize everything and figure out what to do when they take the ice in Red Deer.

Speedskating

It’s a sport where Nunavut has always had a team and it’s a sport where Nunavut may have an outside chance at doing well.

Judging by the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, Nunavut’s speedskaters should be competitive with their counterparts. Emma Carpenter will be the one to watch as she reeled off five ulus – four of them gold – in the juvenile girls category at the AWG but that was the AWG. This is the Canada Winter Games and the rest of the country is playing.

The team made the trip out to Halifax for a camp and competition and from the looks of things, they were put through their paces both on and off the ice and that’s good. They will need to be in tip-top shape because they will be up against some of the country’s best, some even on the cusp of making the national team.

I say this is where Nunavut may have an outside chance because short-track speedskating provides plenty of excitement and is very unpredictable. Crashes happen all the time and if a skater is lucky enough to avoid the debris, they could take full advantage. Same with skaters who are penalized for infractions – a skater may be advanced through or have their placing improved because of it.

You never hope for that but if it happens and you win a medal because of it, you smile and take it. I would.

Table tennis

The table tennis team has been picked following the selection tournament in Iqaluit last month and it’s a heavy presence from Kugluktuk. That’s because Kugluktuk is TableTennisTown, Nunavut.

Attila Csaba is the head coach of the team and he will be taking a team that has both major Games experience and some success. The Demerah sisters – Layla and Mackenzie – will be the ones to watch in the girls division as they were bronze uluit this past March at the Arctic Winter Games. Kimberly Hokanak, also from Kugluktuk, will be the third girl on the team and she brings experience to the table (that’s meant to be a pun) having played at the AWG in both 2016 and 2018.

On the boys side, Daniel Niptanatiak will lead the team as the grizzled veteran. He’s also played in two AWGs – 2016 and 2018 – and will be looked upon to provide some guidance to Caleb Bolt and Kyshton Kalai, two rookies to the team.

The best thing going for the team is that Csaba will be there and he’s someone who won’t put up with any garbage from anyone. He’s going to make sure this team is ready and if they aren’t, there are alternates who are ready and willing to step up. They may be in tough in their matches but the one thing they won’t lack is preparedness.

And there you go. A quick look at what the territory has to offer to date. There will be more updates as the days draw nearer so watch this space. Oh, by the way – the answer to the trivia question? Eugene Dederick of Iqaluit won a bronze medal in judo at the 2007 Canada Winter Games and to date, he’s the only one from Nunavut to ever hit the podium.

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James McCarthy
After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better part of the last 10 years over two stints. I’m living the dream of everyone who said they would never get married and never have kids with the best wife you could ask for putting up with my crap for the past 11 years along with two daughters who are more beautiful than yours. Forever outnumbered when it comes to house choices, at least the dog has my back ... whenever I feed him. When you see sports happening, call the hotline at 867 766 8257.