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Editor’s note: Team North made history at the 2016 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships as the boys team snagged a silver medal, the first medal of any colour for the North at the tournament. Here’s the story of how they came close to a first national hockey title for the North.

Going into the 2016 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Mississauga, Ont., Team North had never won a medal.

They had never even had a chance to play for one at that point, to be honest.

But that all changed thanks to one of the most spirited efforts ever seen by a team hailing from the North.

With sincere apologies to the girls squad that year, the boys were the stars of the show at the 2016 edition of the tourna­ment. The boys dropped the gold medal contest to B.C. by a score of 3-0 but the silver medal was the first of any col­our won by a team from North of 60 at a Canadian hockey championship of any kind in quite some time.

NNSL Media spoke to Neco Towtongie, who was one of the assistant coaches for the team that year (“No shame in silver medals”, Yellowknifer, May 11, 2016) and he said snagging a silver medal was more than satisfying.

“We just ran out of gas in the final because we had a short bench,” he said. “We were missing a couple of our key players because of injuries but the boys still worked hard and they never quit.”

Team North’s boys outfit show off their silver medals after getting to the gold medal game at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Mississauga, Ont., on Sunday. They are in the front row from left, Seth Ningeongan, Liam Wong, Qartitaq Kusugak-Clark, Austin Caza, River Ross, Ben McClelland and Josh Tetlichi. In the back row from left are Matthew Skinner, assistant coach Neco Towtongie, head coach Les Skinner, Drake Giroux, Johnny Elias, Jaden Sigurdson, Kaine Comin, Tyler Sabourin, Jonas Leas, Stephane Nukapiak, Kaidan McDonald, Tyler Akeeagok, Tanner Mandville, Alex Skinner, team manager Derek Squirrel and assistant coach Tim Gordon.
photo courtesy of Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT

Team North finished the round-robin with a record of two wins and one loss, that loss coming at the hands of B.C. They met up with Eastern Door and North in the quarter-final, which ended in a 4-1 win, and a semifinal date with Ontario. Team North found themselves down 2-0 in the early going but managed to claw their way back into it, eventually tying the game at 4-4, sending it into sudden-death overtime. It was there that Jonas Leas of Whitehorse played the hero as he scored four minutes in to put Team North into the final against B.C.

“We told the boys (in-between periods) that Ontario was playing to not lose and we were playing to win and we did it,” said Towtongie. “We told the boys to stay the course and success will come and it did.”

The final featured a scoreless first period but B.C. scored early in the second period to draw first blood and they went on from there.

Even in defeat, Towtongie said B.C. was the better and stronger team but the boys realized just what they had done shortly after receiving their silver medals.

“I think it hit us in the dressing room,” he said. “We did so well and beat teams we had never beaten before like Alberta and Ontario. We got outworked but we worked hard and we did well.”

The boys are up against the 1983 Elks Corby Cup-winning rink of Klaus Schoenne, Don Sian, Randy Waddell and the late Doug Bothamley in the next match-up.

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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...

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