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Team defends hockey crown in Arviat

Rankin Inlet withstood a furious comeback attempt by Arviat's Arctic Connection and held on for a 3-2 win in the final of the Jon Lindell Memorial (JLM) Calm Air Cup senior men's hockey championship in Arviat on Jan. 28.

Frances Uppahuak, on behalf of Calm Air, presents the 2018 JLM Calm Air Cup senior men's championship trophy to Rankin Inlet's James Merritt, left, and Wendel Kaludjak in Arviat on Jan. 28. photo courtesy of Noel Kaludjak

Rankin got past Kivalliq in one semifinal, while Arctic Connection defeated Coral Harbour in the other to set up the championship tilt.

Kivalliq defeated Coral to claim bronze at the event, which also included Whale Cove, the Karetakers, Arviat Legends and Arviat Underdogs.

Arctic Connection looked to have tied the score in the final minute, but the goal was waved off due to Rankin goalie James Merritt losing his mask from contact in the crease before the puck entered the net.

Tournament organizer and Arctic Connection assistant captain Gleason Uppahuak said this year's tournament was the most competitive JLM to date.

He said Coral playing in this year's event made a big difference in upping the excitement level among the fans.

"All the crossover games could have gone either way," said Uppahuak.

"The final four were the teams I expected in the semifinals, but I had no idea what to expect in those last few games.

"This was the first year the Karetakers didn't make the semifinals, but they played a gutsy tournament missing a number of their key players in Pujjuut Kusugak, David Clark, Amaujaq Lindell and Chris Connelly."

Uppahuak said the crowds were strong throughout the Jan. 25-28 tournament, with playoff Sunday being standing-room only.

He said Arctic Connection having two disallowed goals in the final game upset some people, but that's part of the game.

"There was lots of pressure from the crowd due to the two disallowed goals, but it's all over and time to look forward to next year.

"The JLM is a great tournament and we want competitive teams every year, but you need officials to come too, so it's a little disheartening when you see some of the fans act like that.

"I'm hoping all these teams are back in 2019, and I'm also hoping to have a Winnipeg team here too.

"We had a Winnipeg goalie and three players on our team this year and they all seemed to really enjoy the JLM, so, hopefully, they'll encourage other guys to come next year."

Scott Forcand, the Winnipeg goalie to make the trip, said he thoroughly enjoyed the tournament.

A former junior- and senior-caliber goalie, Forcand said he was a little surprised by the speed of the games at the JLM.

He said as the games went on, he got more accustomed to his new team and enjoyed the atmosphere surrounding the games with so many fans cheering them on.

"The hospitality in Arviat was exceptional and the people were very nice," said Forcand.

"I found the hockey to be clean, fast and a lot of fun.

"We don't really get too much fan support when we play recreational hockey back in Winnipeg, but this was really something in Arviat, especially the games on Sunday.

"It was a packed house and the fans were just going crazy cheering for our team, and it was a lot of fun having people support you like that."

Forcand said the intensity definitely goes up on the ice with a large crowd cheering you on.

He said with a crowd like that watching, the players want to make a good impression and make that extra effort to set up a play, score a goal or make a big save.

"If you score a goal you get some glory and have people cheering for you, so it definitely adds an extra element to it all.

"The four of us would like to come back some day, and coming back with our own team to see how we stack-up here is definitely something we'd like to do."

Andrew Simms of champion Rankin Inlet said he found this year's JLM balanced more evenly than in previous years, especially among the top four teams.

He said the semifinals and final were all great hockey games that any team could have won.

"Having the Coral team show up made for two very competitive divisions and definitely added an extra element to the tournament," said Simms.

"The level the Whale Cove team played at kind of shocked me, to be honest, especially when they beat Coral in a round-robin game.

"The Karetakers showed a lot of heart throughout the tournament, being without so many of their star players this year.

"We've had to worry a little bit about getting to and from the ice in the past, but the crowds were pretty good this year and there were mainly kids giving us props as we went past them."

Simms said the Rankin team was totally focused on defending its crown at this year's JLM.

He said while it's always fun to play at the JLM, anything less than taking home the trophy would have been a failure among the Rankin players.

"The pressure to defend this year was a big weight on our shoulders, and that was only added to with Arctic Connection having such a stacked team, especially with those guys from the south playing with them.

"We lost to them in the round robin, so we didn't really no what to expect in the final.

"You can't ask for much more than a one-goal final that went right down to the final buzzer."