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Kivalliq Jr. Canucks work to build program

The atom and peewee Kivalliq Jr. Canucks squads put in strong showings at the 31st annual Indigenous Minor Hockey Tournament hosted by the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre (MICEC) in Winnipeg, Man., from March 23-25.

The atoms went 1-2 in their double-knockout play, losing their final game 3-2 with the winning goal being scored in the final minute of play, while the peewee team went through the tournament undefeated until they ran up against Pinaymootang, losing the tourney final 6-5 in overtime.

David Clark coached the Rankin Rock A team of, back row from left, Clark, Owen Connelly-Clark, Gregory Wiseman, Maxine Ronald, Charlotte Siksik, Stephane (Piqut) Nukapiak (assistant coach) and Keenan Eetuk (assistant coach). and, middle row from left, Terence Pilakapsi, Ben Kusugak, Kadin Eetuk, Kayden Mercer, Kaine Towtongie and Nathaniel Brown, and, front from left, Theo Clark (stick boy), Natuk Innukshuk (team helper), Liam Tattuinee, Ben Tulugak, Sandy Tattuinee (injured), Nuqallaq Okpatauyak and Preston Kaludjak (goalie) to the Powerful Peewee championship in Rankin Inlet on March 4. The minor tourneys also serve as selection camps for teams in the Kivalliq Jr. Canucks program. NNSL file photo

Kivalliq's David Clark of Rankin Inlet was named the peewee division's top coach, while the Jr. Canucks' Russell Matoo was named the division's top defenceman.

Team general manager Gleason Uppahuak of Arviat said the Kivalliq Jr. Canucks use regional tournaments such as the Powerful Peewee and Arctic Atoms to select most of their players.

He said head coach Clark handles the player selections, while he takes care of all the administrative tasks.

“I let (Clark) work his magic when it comes to selecting the players,” said Uppahuak. “He and his dad (Donald) are, in my opinion, the top of the line for Nunavut hockey coaches, so I let them do what they do best.”

Uppahuak said they decided this past fall to move all the minor hockey tournaments up a little bit in Rankin Inlet this year. The tournaments now run in January and February, which gives them more time to prepare their teams for the southern tournaments they compete in during March and April, he said.

“We're proud of the effort our atoms and peewees put in, and I have high hopes for our bantam team this month,” said Uppahuak. “The Kivalliq is hockey, and we're already excited about our Jr. Canucks peewee squad for next year because about 80 per cent of the players who made the team this year will be returning for the 2018-19 season.”

Because of a scheduling conflict with the Arctic Winter Games, the Jr. Canucks couldn't send the bantams to the Indigenous Minor Hockey Tournament, so Uppahuak will have them playing in another Indigenous hockey tournament being hosted by the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council later this month.

Clark said the minor tourneys Rankin hosts are imperative to selecting the Canucks squads. He and his assistants put every player in a given tournament up on a board in the coach's room before play begins and, during the course of the weekend, the names are whittled down to the selected team, he said.

“I coach, ref or watch every game in the tournament,” said Clark. “We take advice from the local coaches and, as the weekend goes on, we start narrowing our list down and start watching the players a little bit more closely, taking note of their attitudes and the way they act around the rink both on and off the ice.”

Clark said that while some teams at the MICEC tournament that would struggle in Kivalliq tournaments, most are equal to or a bit ahead of where the Kivalliq is at in terms of player development. Most of the MICEC teams would do very well at the Kivalliq tournaments, he added.

“It's a good mix and it's good for our kids to see we're right there with the better teams and we're doing well when we get to these tournaments,” he said. “I had compliments all weekend on how our peewees play a team game, and the boys stick to their positions and play hockey the right way, so that made me quite happy to hear.”