It's not often teams from the North are able to get together as they prepare for the Canada Winter Games and it's rarer still to get to play against your competition before the games begin, but that is exactly what Team Nunavut's men's hockey team did last weekend.
The boys flew west to Yellowknife to play in a series of exhibition matches against Team NT men's hockey team and a team from Shawnigan Lake School out of B.C.
The boys struggled to pick up wins over the weekend, but head coach Martin Joy said the trip was well worth the trip.
“It was great for us because again we haven't played a lot of games as a team and the most important thing for the guys is to figure out where they're at in regards to compete level,” said Joy.
After the weekend, the boys now have a measuring stick as to the level they need to achieve to compete at the games, which take place in two months time, and they aren't far off, said Joy.
The boys kept it close in their matches and dropped a number of games by only one or two goals, a success in itself given most of the boys only started skating again in November, on small ice surfaces no less.
After the weekend of practice, Joy said each player now knows exactly what is expected of them moving forward as they continue to gel as a team.
“I can't stress to you how important that is,” said Joy. “I think it was about making simple plays in regards to team based hockey, we tried to do a little bit too much and made it complicated for ourselves but that's part of the learning.”
The athletes have now gone back to their respective communities to work on weaknesses identified by the coaching staff. They will gather the week before the Canada Winter Games begins for one final training camp.
The 2019 Canada Winter Games are taking place in Red Deer, Alta., in February.
Team Nunavut will make history as the first team from the territory to compete at the games in ice hockey.
The significance of the achievement is not lost on Joy.
“It's transformational in regards to hockey for the boys and girls in Nunavut that it gives you something to work towards,” he said. “It's a big deal for these guys because they understand when you see Sidney Crosby and Jordin Tootoo played there you get to see and play against some of the top players in Canada. That is something exciting to look forward to.”