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M&T defeats KIA for senior Rankin crown
Terence Tootoo Memorial looks to be extremely competitive tourney

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

M&T defeated KIA 7-4 to claim the Rankin Inlet Senior Men's Hockey League championship two games to none, and put the brakes on a strange playoff run that was almost a perfect underdog tale in Rankin earlier this month.

The league's two semifinal series saw fourth place KIA knock out first place A&K in a major upset, while third place M&T eliminated second place Canadrill to begin their championship run.

M&T's Chad Taipana said he saw KIA eliminating A&K in their semifinal as a big upset, but, with the top three teams being so close in points during the regular season, he didn't really see M&T's defeat of Canadrill as an upset.

He said there were overtime games in both rounds of the playoffs, so all three series could have gone either way.

"Some guys were away and some other guys were hurt during the playoffs, and that played a big role, especially with A&K, I think," said Taipana.

"The games in the final were a lot faster than I expected, and you could tell a lot of guys really wanted to win the championship this year.

"Having the playoffs finish before our big tournament usually works out pretty good if your team makes the league final because you get to play better games before the tournament starts.

"But, sometimes it can be really bad for the other players who don't make the final, because they can end up waiting a couple of weeks before they play again, and even longer if they're on a team that doesn't make the playoffs."

Taipana said he missed the level of A Division hockey at the start of this season, before the league dropped the B Division and went back to a five-team circuit.

He said the level of play picked up quite a bit during the year, however, as did the level of intensity as the playoffs approached.

"It was a successful year for the league because everyone got to play, the teams were pretty evenly matched and the games all got a lot closer near the end of the season."

Taipana's teammate and team captain, Lee Kreelak, took a puck in the face on a clearing attempt and had to be rushed to the health centre during Game 1 of the final.

In true hockey fashion, Kreelak was back on the ice for Game 2, despite a row of stitches and swollen eyes.

Kreelak said most of the guys on M&T played together all year long and that proved to be a big advantage in the final when the team was back to, pretty much, full strength.

He said M&T continually rolled three lines on its way to the championship.

"Everybody, all the guys, showing up for our playoff games was big for us," said Kreelak.

"The one thing about going back to a five-team league was we all played so much hockey this year, I think it was the most fun we had in a very long time.

"Our team was all about going out every single night and having fun, but also going out to compete.

'Saw more fights'

Kreelak said M&T's goaltending and defensive play were major factors in their undefeated championship run.

He said he classifies this season as a successful one for the league.

"I saw more fights in the league this year than in the past few years combined, so, even though the overall skill level from an A Division may have gone down, the level of intensity was still there.

"So was the league successful this year? Damn rights!

"With my team, we had a little speech before almost every game because we were playing for something and we were out there to win.

"Some guys might say it's just league play, but when you have that feeling you're playing for something, it gives you way more motivation, the intensity goes up and you want to win."

Andrew Simms, senior league president and organizing committee member for the Terence Tootoo Memorial (TTM) Calm Air Cup, said it was disappointing to have bad weather postpone the senior tournament this past week.

He said you always want things to run smoothly, the way you plan them, but, other than talking to the team leaders to make sure they're getting everything rearranged for the following week, there isn't much you can do when a blizzard hits.

'Can't control weather'

"Really, it hasn't been too bad because everybody's been pretty understanding about the fact you can't control the weather," said Simms.

"You look at the teams on paper, and this could be a tournament with as many as six teams having a legitimate chance.

"Depending on how things work out with the Challenge Cup in Iqaluit, which was scheduled to be held this past week at the same time as the TTM, there should be a lot of junior 'C' players available now, too, and that's going to make teams stronger.

"You know a number of Team Kivalliq players are going to want to play if they're available, and there will probably be a few Iqaluit players wanting to come over, too, depending on if their coaches let them or they're too worried about injuries."

Simms said being the first TTM already makes it special, and the committee members are trying to do the best they can to make the first one a great tournament that they can continue to build upon year after year.

He said having it named in memory of Terence, and this being the first one, you really want everything to go well so Rankin has an awesome tournament with great hockey.

"There's definitely pressure to make sure the family is happy with what we do, and also to try and make sure the hockey's good for the rest of the players coming in so they'll want to come back.

"We're looking forward to seeing the OCN team guys Terence and Jordin played with but nobody really knows what to expect.

"The players should be around 35, about Jordin's age, and they all, apparently, still play in senior leagues back home just like us, so I would think they're going to be one of the better teams.

"Your endurance, or the ability to play longer, diminishes with age, but the skill is still there."

As for the Rankin senior league, Simms said there are still guys who prefer the A and B divisions, and those who prefer having just one division.

He said the league simply didn't have the numbers for two divisions this year.

"We're going to start having meetings during the summer to begin planning and be well-prepared for both the start of the league and the tournament in March.

"We're looking at having a five-minute, three-on-three overtime to decide tie games instead of a shootout in the league next season.

"There might be some changes coming, but this season was definitely a success for our senior hockey league."

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