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Oh so close as Kivalliq Canucks make championship game in Regina

The 2024 U18 Kivalliq Jr. Canucks that went all the way to the final of the Oskana Cup in Regina, Sask., from May 2 to 5 are, back row from left, Troy Aksalnik (head coach), William Uppahuak, Gregory Wiseman, Dexter Kalluak, Cooper MacNeil, Keenan Uluqsi, Ryley Komakjuak, Prime Paniyuk, Russell Matoo, Cam Kaludjak, Ben Kusugak (injured), Wayne Kusugak (equipment manager) and Darren Ikakhik Sr. (assistant coach); middle row from left, Darren Ikakhik Jr., Mark Kalluak, Michael Donovon, Liam Tattuinee, Justin Eetuk, Jordin Aksalnik (waterboy) and Terence Kusugak (waterboy). In front is goalie Blake Kusugak. Photo courtesy Kivalliq Canucks

The Kivalliq Jr. Canucks U18 hockey team put in a strong showing for Nunavut at the Oskana Cup in Regina, Sask., from May 2 to 5.

The Canucks made it all the way to the championship game before falling 6-0 to Battle River, Sask..

Team head coach Troy Aksalnik said he thoroughly enjoyed the tournament.

He said the players had a great time and he was proud of their record of seven wins against just two losses.

“Everyone started in the same division but once you lost a game, you had to go into the loser’s bracket and work your way back up,” said Aksalnik.

“We lost our second game, so we, pretty much, had to start over knowing we were out if we lost another game. I think we took the team we lost our second game to a little bit too lightly and it cost us.

“Overall, our players gave it everything they had. We played hard all weekend.

“We owe a big thank you to both the Terence Tootoo Memorial ($2,500) and the Manitoba Inuit Association ($2,000) for donating toward the cost of our meals.”

Aksalnik said the Kivalliq players were out of gas by the time they made it to the championship game.

He said the Canucks held on for most of the first period, but, once they fell behind 2-0, they just didn’t have anything left to give.

“We played five games in nine hours the last day, so that was a pretty decent showing. It’s a hard road once you lose a game in that tournament. All the teams who haven’t lost yet have an easier route to the final.

“The only team that didn’t lose a game on Sunday was the team that beat us in the final. They played one game before they played us. We had played four.

“It’s just the way the brackets played out.”

Aksalnik said the overall play in the tournament was top-notch, and all but one team the Canucks played were, pretty much, the same caliber.

He said he might be biased, but he truly believes Kivalliq was the best team at the tournament.

“Our goaltending was awesome during the whole tournament. Blake Kusugak stood on his head for us, including playing all five games on Sunday. He was named best goalie of the tournament.

“We only had one goalie because our other one, Jimmy Ollie, backed out the day we were leaving because he wanted to go fishing.”

Aksalnik said the Canucks thought they had a good chance in the final, so the players were pretty down after the game.

He said once they had time to soak it all in, however, they left in pretty high spirits.

“You play five games and you’re getting hit every time you’re out there. Our guys showed a lot of heart because that takes a lot out of you.

“We didn’t have a really big team. We only had two guys over six-feet tall. All the rest of our players were short, fast and crafty. Speed was the biggest part of our game.

“As a team, we only had one 45-minute practice the week of the tournament.

“When you’re in that situation, you have to learn to play with your linemates or defense partner in just one game. You just go with the flow after that.“

Aksalnik said the Kivalliq team played with a lot of class all weekend long.

He said teams tried to start a brawl every time they were knocking one out, but the Kivalliq players wouldn’t bite.

“Our players really kept their heads. We had guys coming back to the bench with bloody lips and noses and they kept focused on playing hockey.

“If this had been the guys I played with at that age, there would have been brawls all over the ice. But our guys kept playing hockey and they deserve full marks for that.

“Just before we went out for the final game, I told them I was already proud of them and to just go out and give it the best they had left. They were champs in my eyes.”

About the Author: Darrell Greer, Local Journalism Initiative

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