Iqaluit and Rankin split weekend hockey series
Eastern rivals hold first and second spots in Northern Hockey Challenge
The Northern Hockey Challenge’s top two teams in the eastern Arctic division came away with a win apiece in a two-game weekend series at Iqaluit’s Arctic Winter Games arena, March 15 and 16.
Iqaluit clawed its way back from a 4-0 deficit to Rankin Inlet in front of a loud home crowd in Friday’s game to win 5-4.
Rankin Inlet battled back on Saturday, edging the home team with a tying and game-winning goal in the final nine minutes – and topping it off with an empty-netter to win 9-7.
Rankin Inlet’s Pujjuut Kusugak scored the game-winner and empty-net goals on March 16, earning his team’s second hat trick of the game in a final over-the-top push.
Teammate David Clark also scored three, earning first star-of-the-game honours. Iqaluit’s Brad Hickes was the game’s second star, scoring two tying goals that kept Iqaluit at-par with Rankin Inlet in the second period.
“I can’t say I am not disappointed, I would have loved to win both games at home,” said Iqaluit team manager Chris Côté. “That’s what we play for. But we’ll take what we give, I guess.”
Rankin Inlet team manager Hamish Tatty felt the same way, though he agreed the win was crucial to the team’s success at making the Hockey Challenge play-offs.
“We have a fighting chance from here on,” he said after the close of the second game. “It would have been nice to take two, but we’ll go with the split.”
Tatty’s group will play their final two round-robin games at home next weekend against Kuujjuaq, whose record, like Rankin Inlet’s, stands at .500, though with four fewer games played.
Kuujjuaq’s match-up with Rankin Inlet will be part of a busy weekend for the team from Nunavik. They are scheduled to play four games within 45 hours at Rankin Inlet’s Singiituk Complex to make up for prior cancellations due to bad weather.
Unlike other teams, weather conditions did not affect Iqaluit’s schedule, allowing them to complete all their 12 scheduled games on time. A blizzard on March 11 did affect team members’ ability to get home back to work and their families however, which caused some annoyance, said Côté.
Even though Iqaluit seems poised to keep their spot on top of the eastern division with 16 points to second-place Rankin’s 10, Côté is taking nothing for given.
“I don’t know what’s guaranteed,” he said. “With the East’s three other teams having to make up at least four games, “anything can happen. I’m pretty sure we’ve got a play-off spot, but we don’t know how that’s going to play out.”
The unpredictable weather’s effect on the schedule did nothing to dampen spectators’ enthusiasm at the weekend games at AWG arena. Friday night’s match-up hosted a crowd of at least 150, and more than 250 came on Saturday afternoon, according to arena organizers.
Asked about Saturday’s near-capacity turnout at the AWG, Brian Tattuinee said “this is pretty much the first time it’s been full like this.”
As social media and website administrator for the Northern Hockey Challenge in the eastern division, Tattuinee has attended most games throughout Nunavut.
“From the games I’ve seen, probably Kuujjuaq has been, like full,” he said, to a capacity of “400 at least.”
“Rankin Inlet is right up there as well,” he said.
Commenting on March 16’s game in Iqaluit, Tattuinee said many fans were actually cheering for the visitors from Rankin Inlet, because “I would say the majority are probably from the Kivalliq region, but living in Iqaluit. They live here, but they’re cheering for their home team.”
“I’m from Rankin Inlet also and I try and be neutral,” said Tattuinee, who now lives in Iqaluit. “But it’s hard when my home community is playing,” he laughed.