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Cracking down on booze at hockey tournament

There will be zero tolerance for players bringing alcohol into the community for sale during the annual Calm Air Cup — the Jon Lindell Memorial (JLM) — senior men’s hockey tournament, said the event’s main organizer.

Gleason Uppahuak said he was unaware of a number of instances of alcohol changing hands in the arena during the most recent JLM this past January.

He said most people know a few players were bringing alcohol into the dry community during previous tournaments despite the best efforts of organizers to discourage it, and he’ll be ramping-up efforts to prevent it from happening in the future.

Nancy Karetak-Lindell drops the puck for the ceremonial faceoff between her nephews, Robert, left, and Charlie Karetak at the 2019 JLM Calm Air Cup senior men’s hockey championship in Arviat on Jan. 25, 2019. Photo courtesy of Brian Tattuinee

“I wasn’t aware the sale of alcohol was actually going on at the rink this past tournament,” said Uppahuak.

“No one told me about the drinking and bootlegging that was taking place at the rink and it was quite disappointing to learn about it recently.

“I wish the players would just forget about the booze and stick to playing hockey for the JLM weekend.

“There are 52 weekends in a year and they have the other 51 to drink if they want to. That’s the way I see it anyway.”

The Calm Air Cup JLM has steadily grown during the past decade to become one of Nunavut’s top hockey tournaments of the year, and trails only the Terence Tootoo Memorial senior men’s hockey tournament and the Polar Bear Plate juvenile/junior tourney in Rankin Inlet as the most popular tourneys in the Kivalliq.

Uppahuak said not only can the presence of alcohol do serious damage to the JLM’s reputation, it also sends a terrible message to the young fans who pack the arena during the event.

He said the last thing he wants to see is youth getting the idea it’s normal to drink at big tournaments.

“The next generation of players might start thinking tournaments are for partying more than anything else if they’re witnessing such behaviour.

“As adults, we’re setting a terrible example for our youth by having booze around any of these events, but especially the top tournaments of the year that have the eyes of the whole region on them.

“Look, it took a long time to build the JLM up to where it is now and I’m sure our community doesn’t want to risk losing this event because of alcohol.”

Uppahuak has been involved with organizing the JLM for the past 12 years.

He said this marks the first time alcohol has been brought to his attention as causing problems during the JLM and he’s going to do what he can to stop it now once and for all.

“First of all, it’s illegal to bring liquor to our community and the players doing so are breaking the law,” said Uppahuak.

“We may speak to the local RCMP about the possibility of having random checks of players’ equipment bags as they arrive for the tournament if that’s the length we have to go to in order to stop this.

“We’ll also be looking at bringing in a tournament commissioner to oversee the JLM both on the ice and off to prevent booze being present at the arena in any form.”

Uppahuak said there are too many parties involved in the JLM for such behaviour to continue.

He said he’s worried the presence of booze may affect sponsorship of future events if it’s not nipped in the bud now.

“You have everyone involved from Calm Air and the Arviat hamlet council to numerous businesses in the community and the presence of booze makes everyone look bad,” he said.

“You pray nothing happens like someone drinking too much and passing-out outside during the coldest month of the year, and the only way to prevent that entirely is to get rid of the booze and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“I always make sure this tournament is sanctioned and insured, but we risk losing our benefactors and the tournament itself if this continues.

“There will be zero tolerance for booze in the future and I can only hope the players get the message and this practice stops once and for all.”