You could forgive Nunavut’s Canada Winter Games boys hockey team for being a bit gassed after their final round-robin game against Team NT on Feb. 18, a 6-0 loss to give the boys a record of one win and three losses.
After all, it was their fourth full 60-minute, full-contact game in less than 36 hours.
As it is, the boys will now have a placement round game against Newfoundland and Labrador on Feb. 20. A win in that game will see them have a chance to play for ninth place against either Team NT or Prince Edward Island. A loss and the best they can do is 11th.
But considering it’s the first time Nunavut has been at the Canada Winter Games for hockey, they won’t finish last and that’s an achievement in and amongst itself for Martin Joy, the team’s head coach.
He said even though they didn’t advance to play for a playoff spot, it doesn’t feel like a failure at all.
“We won a game and that was an amazing feeling,” he said. “The boys have competed every game and watching them play hard has been the most rewarding feeling I’ve had as a head coach. They won’t quit, no matter what.”
That non-quitting attitude was tried over the course of the round-robin as Nunavut was saddled with the worst schedule imaginable among the 13 teams in the boys hockey tournament: two consecutive days of two games with very little chance to rest or recuperate.
Joy said he tried to get the organizers to fix things so his boys could at least get some down time but to no avail.
“We did work to change it but they didn’t seem too interested considering we were the 13th seed,” he said. “It was actually more condensed than it was at first with really no explanation from the host society and we knew that many games in such a short amount of time would be an issue.”
Following the win over Yukon, some players were rested versus Newfoundland and Labrador and didn’t see too much ice time but the wheels fell off against Prince Edward Island, he added.
“The legs were gone by then and we had nothing left against P.E.I. and the NWT,” he said. “Too many games close together and so my job was to try and protect the kids as best as possible.”
With a day’s rest and some time to heal some wounds, Joy thinks his boys will come out hard against Newfoundland and Labrador and it will be a much different contest.
“I think we match up well with them,” he said. “We think we can compete and we did a lot of learning from that last game.”
Like many athletes that come from Nunavut, there has been the curiosity factor about what life is like in the territory and how they got to the Games.
Joy said that’s been a fun part of the week that’s been in Red Deer.
“It’s been an awesome experience overall,” he said. “We just like letting everyone know that we’re here to play hockey and loving every minute of it all.”