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Rankin Rock defends A1 hockey title

The Rankin Rock hockey team defied the odds and successfully defended its Winnipeg Jets Challenge Cup Bantam A1 championship last month in Winnipeg.

The Rock went undefeated (6-0) in the tournament which ran from Dec. 24 to 31, 2019.

The 2019-2020 Winnipeg Jets Challenge Cup Bantam A! repeat champion Rankin Rock are, back row from left, David Clark (coach), Owen Connelly Clark, Gregory Wiseman, Sandy Tattuinee, Liam Tattuinee, Mia Autut, Inuk (Kowmuk) Brown, Carter Burton, Seth Hamilton, Issak Iark and Graham (Bubsy) Kusugak (assistant coach). and, front from left, Ben Kusugak, Preston Kaludjak, Kadin Eetuk, Terence Pilakapsi, Kayden Mercer, Ben Tulugak and Logan Porter in Winnipeg, Man., on Dec. 31, 2019. Photo courtesy of Rankin Rock

Successfully defending the A1 Division title – the top level of A Division hockey – is even more impressive considering the Rock only have three second-year bantams on its roster this season.

Head coach David Clark said this year’s team has a group of kids who have played together for a long time and know how to win.

He said, overall, the Rock bantam team is a little on the small side, but the players are very quick on the ice and they are all hard workers who rarely take a shift off.

“It was our hard work that really separated us from the other teams in the tournament,” said Clark. “Many of the players on our team have been together since atoms, and ever earlier, so it’s a tight-knit bunch.”

The Rock now focus its attention on the regional bantam tournament this weekend (Jan. 17 to 19) in Rankin Inlet, but Clark said they’re all still enjoying their win in Winnipeg.

He said defending the A1 banner is no easy task and he’s proud of the effort his players put-in at the event.

“Successfully defending our title in Winnipeg with a lot younger team – and a different kind of team than the previous year to be honest about it – was pretty rewarding.”

Clark didn’t have much time to catch his breath before heading back to Winnipeg for the Winnipeg Jets AA Showdown from Jan. 2 to 5 with Nunavut’s bantam team in preparation for the upcoming Arctic Winter Games (AWG).

The results were nowhere near the same in the won-loss column, but Clark said the team was in every game but one while trying to find their identity for the AWG.

“We didn’t win a game the whole tournament, but three of the five were one-goal games so we were in the majority of them,” said Clark.

“It was a chance for us, as coaches, to try a few different things and it was a learning experience for some of our players before the AWG, as well.

“You might be fast, able to light it up a bit and take advantage of some of the weaker players in your local league, but this is a whole different level and it doesn’t work like that here.

“Some players hear that being said and stuff but, until you play at this level and experience it, you really don’t grasp how much of a step up it really is.

“We have some really good players on this team and we’ll be ready to compete from the first time they drop the puck to the last at the AWG.”