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Iqaluit claims midget crown in Arviat
Defeat Rankin Inlet 3-2 in overtime to claim 2017 banner

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Arviat has hosted two midget hockey territorial championships during the past four years, and the 2017 event earlier this month was the mirror opposite of the first territorial the community held.

NNSL photo/graphic

The 2017 Nunavut midget hockey territorial champion Team Iqaluit are, front row from left, Felix Dubeau and Bradley Alikataktuq, and middle row from left, AJ Arnaumayuq, Jonathan Whalen and Uriah Aliyak, and back row from left, Denis Lambe (coach), Josie Stoney, Jayko Ijjiarniak, Andrew Pearce, Mason Angnakak, Kevin Kullualik, Tuumasi Thoma, Sam Kuluguqtuq, Isa Nuyalia, Colin McGowan, Max Cousins, Solomon Goupil, Isaiah Attagutsiak and James Lambe (assistant coach) in Arviat earlier this month. - photo courtesy of Alvin Illungiayok

The first midget championship Arviat hosted, Team Iqaluit was so far above the other teams that they destroyed everyone on their way to the banner.

So strong was Iqaluit that year, in fact, Sport Nunavut officials were forced to stop the tournament about halfway through and create a non-contact division in order to keep a number of teams from going home because the majority of their players couldn't handle the intense level of body contact when playing Iqaluit and, to a lesser degree, Rankin Inlet.

Iqaluit are 2-0 in Arviat after taking this year's banner, but that's where the similarities between the two events cease.

Iqaluit defeated Rankin 3-2 in overtime this year, and, at least two other teams had legitimate shots at the title.

Tourney organizer Gleason Uppahuak said he couldn't be happier with how things went, both on and off the ice.

He said, in his opinion, both this and the next generation of Kivalliq players are developing an intelligence level for the game far beyond the previous two generations.

"In years past, midget hockey was a gong show with too many players on the Kivalliq teams just trying to hit someone on the other team; and, not to take the puck away from them, but to just do as much damage with their hit as they could," said Uppahuak.

"We all know certain teams can be intimidated by that, especially from smaller communities where they don't body check all season, but, the better teams kill you on the PP (power play) when you play like that because of the penalties you take, and our top officials in the region call all that silliness.

"But this year, the Kivalliq players were playing hockey, just like this past year, and I didn't have to make a single trip to the health centre with a player."

Non-hockey fans may not get the significance of that, but not a single player getting hurt in a full-contact tournament in the Kivalliq would have been unheard of just a few short years ago.

The Kivalliq, arguably, was the last region to adapt to Hockey Canada's vision on how the modern game should be played, stubbornly sticking to 'old-time hockey.'

Uppahuak said Kivalliq hockey is finally catching up to today's game.

He said most of the dirty play, and players trying to deliver super hits, are finally gone from the Kivalliq game.

"Three or four teams could have won this year and, if Kivalliq hockey continues to evolve the same way, the days of Iqaluit coming here and beating everyone by a mercy (winning by at least seven goals before the end of the game) are gone.

"There are a lot of skilled players coming up in the Kivalliq right now, so it's going to be a lot of fun for the next few years."

Iqaluit coach Denis Lambe will also coach the Team Nunavut midget squad at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games (AWG).

The territorials played a duel role for Lambe, who also coached the 2008 bantam AWG team and the 2010 midget AWG team, as he used the tournament as a tryout camp to finalize his roster for the AWG team.

Lambe said Uppahuak did an awesome job with the territorial in Arviat.

He said the word committee may be used, but, in his opinion, Uppahuak did just about everything during the tourney.

"The guys at the rink were perfect and we really enjoyed ourselves," said Lambe.

"The only drawback was that they were doing renovations at the time, so we had to move around the dressing rooms a few times and some of the dressing rooms had no doors, but the kids really loved the food and our accommodations at the school were clean and they had a security guard on duty there during out stay.

"It was a very well-organized tournament.

"I didn't see anyone else do a thing except Gleason (Uppahuak), who was at the rink from morning until night every day, handled any problem that came up and helped out with the charters."

Iqaluit was in the same division as Coral Harbour and Whale Cove at the territorial.

As the weekend went on, Lambe said he was surprised by the calibre of play Iqaluit faced against Coral and Whale.

He said, as a coach, there's a chance he was too overconfident at the start of the tournament.

"When I saw Coral and Whale in our division, my first thought was we probably weren't going to face Rankin Inlet until the final because it didn't seem like much of a division for us to take care of.

"We won our first game 4-1 against Coral, but it was a heck of a hockey game against a good team that really got my attention, and then we lost our next game to Whale Cove in a shootout.

"I was shaking my head and wondering what was going on during the round robin, and we ended up playing Whale Cove again in the semifinal after eliminating the combined Gjoa Haven/Arctic Bay team in the quarterfinal.

"We beat Whale 6-2 in the semifinal, but it wasn't an easy game by any means."

Lambe said the overtime win against in the final was an excellent, exciting hockey game.

He said, in his opinion, the Kivalliq has a good crop of young players coming up through the system right now.

"We did our selections for the 2018 AWG during the territorial, and the majority of the players I selected were from Arviat, Coral Harbour, Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove this time.

"When we were done with our final selections, 24 of the 30 players were from the Kivalliq.

"I was impressed with Whale Cove goalie Kris Ippiak of Chesterfield Inlet, who was just unbelievable at the territorial and one big reason Whale did as well as they did.

"We fired a lot of pucks at him but we couldn't solve him and, if it wasn't for Kris, the score could have been 15-2, but getting great goaltending is a big part of hockey and it can take an average team a long, long way."

Lambe said he expects the Team Nunavut midgets to be a very fast squad at the 2018 AWG.

He said the team should be well-anchored with a strong defensive core and solid goaltending.

"I say this defensive core is actually better than the one I had in 2010, and I had some really good defencemen on that team.

"We have a few big bodies from Rankin up front who skate fast and can really move the puck.

"I mean, I guess most coaches are, but I'm really optimistic about our chances at the 2018 AWG with the midgets.

"I say we're definitely a medal contender with a chance to go all the way."

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