The atom and peewee Kivalliq Jr. Canucks squads put in strong showings at the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre’s (MICEC) 31st annual aboriginal minor hockey tournament in Winnipeg, Man., from March 23-25.

The atoms went 1-2 in their double-knockout play, losing their final game 3-2 with the winning goal being scored in the final minute of play, while the peewee team went through the tournament undefeated until they ran up against Pinaymootang, losing the tourney final 6-5 in overtime.

A distraught group of Kivalliq Jr. Canucks peewee players try to pose for a team photo after a heartbreaking 6-5 overtime loss in the MICEC’s 31st annual aboriginal minor hockey tournament final are, back row from left, assistant coaches Connor Faulkner, Sidney Nichol and Keenan Eetuk, and general manager Gleason Uppahuak, and, middle row from left, David Clark (head coach), Mackenzie Putumiraqtuq, Prime Paniyuk, Gregory Wiseman, Ethan Kuksuk, Justin Eetuk, Owen Connelly-Clark, Sandy Tattuinee, Russell Matoo, Ben Kusugak, Kadin Eetuk and William Uppahuak, and, front from left, Mark Kalluak, Ben Tulugak, Jimmy Ollie, Terence Pilakapsi, Ramsey Eetuk, Rodney Nakoolak and Thayer Komakjuak in Winnipeg, Man., on March 24. photo courtesy David Clark

Kivalliq’s David Clark of Rankin Inlet was named the peewee division’s top coach, while the Jr. Canucks’ Russell Matoo was named the division’s top defenceman.

Team general manager Gleason Uppahuak of Arviat said the Kivalliq Jr. Canucks use regional tournaments such as the Powerful Peewee and Arctic Atoms to select most of their players.

He said head coach Clark handles the player selections, while he takes care of all the administrative tasks.

I let (Clark) work his magic when it comes to selecting the players,” said Uppahuak. “He and his dad (Donald) are, in my opinion, the top of the line for Nunavut hockey coaches.”

Uppahuak said they decided this past fall to move all the minor hockey tournaments up a little bit in Rankin Inlet this year because having the tournaments run in January and February gives them more time to prepare their teams for the southern tournaments they compete in during March and April.

We’re proud of the effort our atoms and peewees put in, and I have high hopes for our bantam team this month,” he said. “The Kivalliq is hockey, and we’re all ready excited about our Jr. Canucks peewee squad for next year because about 80 per cent of the players who made the team this year will be returning for the 2018-19 season.”

This year, because of the timing with the Arctic Winter Games, they couldn’t include the bantams in the MICEC’s 31st annual aboriginal minor hockey tournament, so they have them playing in another Indigenous hockey tournament being hosted by the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council later this month, said Uppahuak.

We will have the atoms, peewees, bantams and midgets all competing at the MICEC tournament next season,” he continued.

Clark said the minor tourneys Rankin hosts are imperative to selecting the Canucks squads. He and his assistants put every player in a given tournament up on a board in the coach’s room before play begins and, during the course of the weekend, the names are whittled down until a team is selected, he said.

I coach, (referee) or watch every game in the tournament,” said Clark. “We take advice from the local coaches and, as the weekend goes on, we start narrowing our list down and start watching the players a little bit more closely, taking note of their attitudes and the way they act around the rink both on and off the ice, as well as their on-ice talent. At the end of the tournament we come up with our team list and put the players names up on the board.”

Clark said while there are some teams at the MICEC tournament that would struggle in Kivalliq tournaments, most are equal to or a bit ahead of where the Kivalliq is at with player development right now. Most of the MICEC teams would do very well at the Kivalliq tournaments, he added.

It’s a good mix and it’s good for our kids to see we’re right there with the better teams and we’re doing well when we get to these tournaments,” said Clark. “The kids we’re taking are already high-level players at their age group, so they’re doing fine. I had compliments all weekend on how our peewees play a team game, and the boys stick to their positions and play hockey the right way, so that made me quite happy to hear.”

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