Another biennial, another big time for the Kivalliq at the Arctic Winter Games.

The 2018 edition of the Games wrapped up in Hay River, NWT on March 24 with the closing ceremonies featuring plenty of entertainment and close to 2,000 athletes on the floor celebrating and dancing before the job of figuring out how they were getting home began.

Avaala Sabourin of Rankin Inlet shakes hands with Ben Carson of the Northwest Territories after the gold ulu game in midget boys hockey at the Arctic Winter Games in Hay River, NWT on March 23. James McCarthy/NNSL photo

Mariele Depeuter, Nunavut’s chef de mission, said there were plenty of highlights, including the gold ulu game for the midget boys hockey team.

“Everyone got pumped up for that,” she said. “Disappointing ending for Nunavut, but seeing them play in that game was a huge highlight for everyone.”
Hockey is one of the sports that takes centre stage at the Games and was the case again as Nunavut and the Northwest Territories did battle on March 23. Nunavut came in as the best team from the round-robin and a bit of an edge having beaten team NT in the round-robin, 3-2. After scraping past Yukon in a shootout, 3-2, in the semifinal, the two rivals met again for the big prize.

The NT opened the scoring in the first period and added another late in the second period, but Justin Cox of Iqaluit scored with 31.7 seconds remaining in regulation to cut the deficit to 2-1. It wasn’t enough, though, as the NT would hold on to win gold.

Head coach Denis Lambe said all the credit goes to the winners because they worked hard, but he still feels like they were the better team.

“I still think our boys are the best,” he said. “There’s a lot of passion in our locker room, but give them a good night’s sleep and they’ll realize that they lived in the moment. You win some and you lose some on any given night.”

It wasn’t all disappointment as Drew Bell once again was one of the stars of the show in Arctic sports. Arviat’s lived up to his reputation as he came home with eight ulus – three gold, four silver and one bronze. One of those ulus was the all-around title in the men’s open division and one gold came in the one-hand reach in which he set a new Arctic Winter Games record with a touch of 5 ft., 7 in.

“I don’t think it’s really set in yet,” said Bell right after his win on March 20. “There’s just a lot of emotions going through my mind right now. I didn’t come with an expectation to do that so it’s almost surprising.”

The record setting reach wasn’t without controversy. On his third and final attempt at the record, Bell propped himself up on one hand and reached out to barely graze the bottom of the seal skin ball before returning to balance himself on two hands without his feet touching the ground to ensure his attempt would count.

At least one of the judges saw him touch the ball, but uncertainty from the other three officials led them to confer in the middle of the gym for a few minutes. After a few tense moments they concluded that the attempt was good.

“There was no doubt in my mind but the judges have to do their due diligence,” said Bell. “To be honest if they had said no, I would have accepted that. It happens every Games. Something doesn’t go the way you think it will and you just need to move on the next games and keep that positive energy.”

After setting the record Bell was spurned on by the crowd to go one inch higher but he packed it in after two attempts.

Natalie Baker of Arviat was also a gold uluit as she captured top spot in the girls 71-kg weight class in Inuit wrestling.

Tanya Tugak of Rankin Inlet came home with three ulus – one silver and two bronze – from her week in Hay River and she said at least she hit the podium.

“I feel I could have done a bit better, but at least I get to bring an ulu home,” she said. “They’ve all been difficult matches, but this is my favourite sport.”

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