Nordiks, led by Quaqtaq captain, skate to gold in midget tournament
"It was the best feeling.”
Halfway through the first period of a gold medal match, the Nunavik Nordiks midget A team was feeling confident.
With two goals under its belt, the team was injected with an energy that pushed players to move faster and harder against their Richelieu, Quebec opponents. Nordiks captain Gary Joe Angnatuk scored a goal halfway through the second, bringing the team up 5-0.
By the third period, Angnatuk said the team became almost too confident — players slowed, the Nordiks had to change their goaltender and the other team finally got a goal.
But in the end, it didn’t matter — the Nordiks pulled off a 7-1 win Jan. 12, taking gold at the Donnacona Provincial Midget Hockey Tournament in southern Quebec.
And that’s a moment Angnatuk says he won’t forget — one that crowned his eight years playing with the Nunavik Youth Hockey Development Program.
As the Nordiks lined the ice to await a moment with the tournament trophy, Angnatuk said his stomach was in knots.
“I couldn’t wait… I was just shaking,” Angnatuk said. “When it finally came to me, I just picked it up and skated around the rink. It was the best feeling.”
Angnatuk’s friends and family thousands of kilometres north of the tournament also shared in that feeling. Nunavimmiut across the region tuned into the game on local radio, where Juanasi Kaitak announced the play-by-play, which was fed through TNI.
The victory continued when the Nordiks flew back to Nunavik Jan. 13. When Angnatuk landed in his hometown of Quaqtaq, he was surprised to find a crowd waiting to congratulate him outside the airport.
Angnatuk,16, said he first started playing hockey when he was four years old, mostly street hockey with friends in Quaqtaq.
When he started playing under the NYDHP in 2006 — the year the program launched — he never imagined he’d still be playing eight years later.
“(The program has) done a lot for me, I think I grew up a lot on it,” said Angnatuk, a Secondary 3 student at Isummasaqvik school. “Now my goal is to get to the highest level of hockey I can.”
In the meantime, Angnatuk works with younger players in Quaqtaq; he’ll also be involved in an upcoming Atoms tournament, which will host a Nordiks team.
“I always tell the kids to follow their dreams,” he said.
Former NHLer Joé Juneau, who helped to launch the NYDHP across the region and continues to coach the Nordiks, said victories like the midget team’s gold medal are something the entire region can celebrate.
“We’ve been working hard with these kids for eight years, and all the believing, persevering and patience has paid off,” he said.