Team Rankin Inlet is going to be in tough to defend its championship at the Jon Lindell Memorial (JLM) Calm Air Cup senior men's hockey championship this week, Jan. 25 to 28, in Arviat.
This year's event features eight teams, with at least half of them being even-money contenders for championship gold.
The lineup includes Rankin Inlet, Arctic Connection, Whale Cove and the Arviat Underdogs in the A Division, and Team Kivalliq, Karetakers, Coral Harbour and the Arviat Legends in the B Division.
The majority of the Team Kivalliq squad is comprised of players from Naujaat, with a few added from Arviat and Rankin Inlet, while the Arctic Connection team has beefed up its roster with players from the Peg.
The top three teams in each division advance to the playoff round – with the two first-place clubs earning a first-round bye – making a number of games in the round-robin segment of the event almost do-or-die matchups.
Tourney organizer Gleason Uppahuak said the community is buzzing with excitement as the tournament looms ever closer.
He said the community is very happy to welcome Coral Harbour to the event for the first time.
“We agreed that if Coral Harbour came to our tournament, then Arviat would send a team to theirs later in the season,” said Uppahuak.
“Coral Harbour being here makes our tournament that much stronger, which is what we want, so we're very happy to have them, and we're all hoping the weather co-operates for everyone to get in.
“Our players are going to work very hard to make sure they have the money to go to Coral's tournament, so this might be a deal we can keep going in the future.”
Coral's arrival makes the ice a little rougher for Naujaat players on Team Kivalliq, with two archrivals to contend with in Coral and Arctic Connection.
Uppahuak said the friendly, but intense, rivalries that build-up between teams is good for Kivalliq hockey.
He said the more evenly matched the teams, and the less number of mercy rule or one-sided games, then the more exciting every Kivalliq tournament becomes for both the players and the fans.
“Rankin will be a strong, strong team, we all know that, but it's not going to be easy for them to repeat this year.
“All the teams know they have to bring their A game to beat Rankin, so they're not going to get many games off.”
As an organizer trying to make the JLM Calm Air Cup as big as any in the Kivalliq, Uppahuak has been trying to coax a team from Manitoba to the event for years.
This year, while living in Winnipeg to attend school, he may just have taken the first steps towards realizing that goal.
“I'm bringing three players and a goalie from Winnipeg to play on our Arctic Connection team,” said Uppahuak.
“I was trying to get a whole Winnipeg team to come, but I look at this as a positive start.
“We'll see how things go, and I'll get their feedback after the tournament, but our goal remains to try and make the JLM more competitive each year.
“If these players find the tournament competitive and have a good time, that might lead to other players or a whole Winnipeg team coming next year.”