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Edmonton teams salute Rankin Rock 'B' peewee team's special player

Referees, players on the Valleyview Icebears and their coaches reached out to the Rankin Rock peewee 'B' team to produce a couple of incredible memories for the very special captain of the Rankin team, Jackie Nakoolak.

Young special needs player Jackie Nakoolak of the Rankin Rock peewee 'B' team had a number of memorable moments during the Spring Festival on Ice minor hockey event in Edmonton, Alta., on March 31, 2019.
Photo courtesy Geela Saviakjuk

Rankin coach Ben Porter pulled the referee aside when the Rock team was warming up for its first game against Yellowknife to let the ref know the Rankin squad had a player with special needs on the team, and he was going to go on the ice, skate around a bit, slide and then come off.

Porter then told the referee what Nakoolak really wanted was to get a penalty in a real tournament game.

“The refs told me to throw him over the boards and they'd give him a penalty for too many men on the ice and he could go into the box,” said Porter.

“They gave him the minor penalty and he went into the penalty box, took off his helmet and gloves, and put his hands on his face like he did something terribly, terribly, wrong.

“We thanked the refs at the end of the game and they said it was a beautiful thing we were doing, and really nice to see a great kid like Jackie being allowed to play hockey.”

The Rock 'B' team was placed in a bracket far too high to be competitive in, so the scoreboard was the least of everyone's concerns as the weekend rolled past.

Travel organizer and hockey mom Rachele Verbeek of Rankin Inlet said despite being annihilated every game, the kids on the 'B' team had a fantastic time in Edmonton.

She said despite the lopsided scores, the Rankin kids just kept smiling throughout the whole thing and they were rewarded for their resilience with another special moment.

“The penalty given to Jackie in the first game kind of set the tone that the Rankin 'B' team was here to just have fun and couldn't be competitive in that bracket,” said Verbeek.

“By the third game against the Valleyview Icebears it seemed every team had heard about Jackie and, with four minutes left in the third period, the coach of that team started yelling at our coaches to put #96 on the ice.

“So they put Jackie out there and it was just an amazing moment to watch all the kids from both teams come together to help him score two goals.

“There wasn't a dry eye in the arena watching that happen, and then they gave him the game star which was pretty darn impressive.”

Porter said everybody cheered at the top of their lungs when Nakoolak scored his goals.

He said all the players mobbed him so much he looked almost like some kind of a celebrity on the ice.

“The players on the other side were all really happy to give Jackie a special moment and every one of them gave him a high five before he came off the ice and passed me the puck to hang onto for him,” said Porter.

“Then during our last game, the coach from the other team asked if we'd like to just mix the players up and play a game for fun.

“Once we made sure the players on both teams were OK with it, that's what we did and everyone had a blast just playing for fun.

“It couldn't have ended any better when the team that won the gold medal in the other arena came all the way down, in their gear, to have pictures taken with Jackie and us.

“The captain of their team gave Jackie his gold medal. Jackie was ecstatic through all this and I'm sure he'll never forget his weekend at that tournament – and I don't think I'll ever forget those moments until the day I die."