Just to change the subject away from Covid-19 for a week anyway – I was recently asked what was my favourite moment or game reffing for almost two decades in Rankin Inlet.
Wow! Didn’t really realize just how many special moments there were for me until I was asked that question.
Rather than just one or two here is a random breakdown of Kivalliq hockey’s greatest moments as seen through the eyes of a zebra.
For sheer tension, Keith (Butchy) Sigurdson winning three draws in his own end with the Baffin pressing to tie the score with an extra attacker on the ice during the final game of a junior C Challenge Cup was incredible.
I don’t ever remember concentrating that hard on the simple act of dropping a puck. You could cut the tension in Rankin’s old barn with a knife.
Late in the third period of what was then the Avataq Cup, David Clark dropped the puck to Pujjuut Kusugak who fired a laser beam toward the Arviat net.
The Rankin players were celebrating their goal when they finally noticed me waving it off, and then they proceeded to chase me all over the ice stating their case.
I was standing next to the Arviat net and saw the puck ride the crossbar, then deflect off the inside of the goal post and bounce out without ever having crossed the line.
There was a government worker in Rankin at the time named Brian McKay who used to videotape all the big games during Rankin tournaments.
The man was driven crazy until the following Tuesday afternoon when he had the video ready. I will love the man for all time for slowing down the action during that part of the game to super-slow motion and showing the puck not entering the net while “no goal” flashed in red upon the screen.
The goaltending battle between James Merritt and Jamie Roach in the final game of one year’s Jon Lindell Memorial in Arviat was nothing short of spectacular.
Each goalie made 20, or so, amazing strops during two periods of overtime, and I will remember forever Merritt’s glove save on a rocket from Amaujaq Lindell and Roach’s toe save on Chad Taipana, while coming across the crease on a Rankin two-on-one.
One year a team from Winnipeg travelled to Rankin to compete in the Powerful Peewee tournament. The team wasn’t really all that good, but they rode the jersey of a super-hot goalie all the way to the championship, beating Rankin 1-0 in a final game that saw Winnipeg out shot at least 40 to 10. It was one of the finest goaltending performances I’ve ever seen.
Another moment I will never forget is the coach from Gjoa Haven, I believe it was, throwing a white towel on the ice because the Iqaluit players were hitting his players too hard during a freaking midget territorial championship.
That tournament also marked the first line brawl I’d seen in 10 years when an Iqaluit player took out the Rankin goalie as he was clearing the puck. It was also the last line brawl I’d see in my career.
I so miss the intensity of a Rankin vs Iqaluit game at any age level in those days.
And, finally, an Avataq semifinal game between Naujaat and Rankin Inlet, during which two of the best I’ve ever seen play senior men’s hockey anywhere, Rodney Taparti of Naujaat and David Clark of Rankin Inlet, simply refused to see their team lose.
Each player tallied seven points in that game, which only had four minor penalties called in total, and it was my privilege to have called such an amazing struggle between two of the region’s all-time best.
There were many others, of course, but these are the ones that will always have a special place in my old zebra’s heart.
Let the game live forever!