Rankin Inlet’s Brayden Uluqsi is set to take the next step in his hockey career in Ontario after signing with the Bradford Rattlers Jr. A team.
“I think I’ll fit in really well with the organization and the league,” Uluqsi told Kivalliq News. “I’ve been developing a lot and working extra hard and my coaches believe in me.”
The six-foot, 170-pound defenceman is a product of the Mount Academy Saints U18 prep program in the CSSHL, where has played for the past three seasons.
He got his start with the Prince Edward Island team following a standout performance at the annual Andrews showcase, where prospects from all over the world come to play in front of junior and college teams across North America.
“I was lucky enough to get chosen by the Mount. It’s been awesome. I love it here, it’s like my second home,” he said.
Uluqsi told Kivalliq News that Bradford’s general manager reached out to him at the beginning of this season to say they were interested in him.
“We’ve been talking throughout the year. When the season was almost over that’s when they reached out, and a few weeks later I signed on,” he said.
Uluqsi, 19, officially signed his one-year contract on March 29. He said he was worried he wouldn’t find a team to play for next year until Bradford expressed interest in him.
“It motivated me to work harder and keep grinding,” he said.
Rattlers’ general manager Sean Werth said Uluqsi was recommended to him by a contact in Nunavut.
“This summer when we started putting together he was one of the names at the top of our short list,” said Werth. “He has a two-way game. He’s a great skater. He’s lean but he’s strong. He makes a good first pass and he doesn’t take big risks.”
Werth said the team has been interested in players from the territory ever since they signed Baker Lake’s Terrence McLean, who went on to become the team’s captain a few years ago.
“We’re pretty excited to have him and to continue this being a path for Nunavut players coming south,” he said.
Since signing his contract, Uluqsi said he has upped his training regimen. He has also made efforts to improve his diet.
“Right now I’m training every day, two times a day, and I cut out having junk food: candy, soda and chips.”
This year has been unusual for Uluqsi and his team due to COVID-19. Their league normally sees them compete against teams across Canada and the United States. However, due to health restrictions, they were limited to playing against three other teams on the island.
“We didn’t travel that much because of COVID. That ruined our season,” he said.
Uluqsi’s Mount Academy Saints ended up winning the league title in 2020. In addition to playing in PEI, Uluqsi was also a member of Team Nunavut at the Youth Canada Winter Games tournament. He said that experience was one of the most positive of his career so far.
“That was my first-ever Nunavut team. That was exciting stuff. It was one of the best tournaments I’ve ever been to,” he said.
In addition to his skill set, Werth said he was impressed by Uluqsi’s maturity and experience in big games.
“We like players who have been faced with deep-pressure situations,” he said. “He already carries himself as a professional.”
Uluqsi grew up playing hockey in Rankin. His last big tournament there was in 2018, when his team captured the Polar Bear Plate. He credits his dad Jordy and Pujjuut Kusugak with helping him develop as a player.
“When he lived in Iqaluit, I worked out with (Kusugak). We talked and he gave me lots of advice,” he said. “It helps you a lot and gives you confidence and reminds you to keep working hard.”
The NHL player Uluqsi looks up to most is Ethan Bear, the Edmonton Oilers’ player from Ochapowace First Nation. Like Bear, Uluqsi is a defenceman that likes create plays and take the body.
“He’s broken so many barriers and he works hard,” he said.
He said his idol growing up was Jordin Tootoo and he hopes to follow in his footsteps by making the NHL. “That’s what I want to do one day. I want to make it to the big leagues.”