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Nunavut hockey warms up for the big show

Nunavut will make history at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., this coming March when the territory's boys hockey team hits the ice for the first time ever.

Before that, it's all about getting the boys ready for the big show and the first step of that road happened in Sarnia, Ont., earlier this month.

Bradley Nowdlak-Fraser, seen during the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, was part of the Nunavut outfit that played a series of exhibition games in Sarnia, Ont., earlier this month. photo courtesy of Kelly Nowdlak

The team of 21 players and the coaching staff made the trip south for a series of exhibition games and workouts with the Sarnia Hockey Association from July 24 to 27. As of press time, the boys had won two and tied one with two games left to go on July 27.

Martin Joy of Iqaluit is one of the coaches that went with the team and said there's only one decision left to make when it comes to the team.

"All of our skaters have been selected and now it's just getting the goaltenders down from three to two," he said.

Getting to Sarnia was all thanks to Brandon Biggers of Iqaluit, who's also on the coaching staff. Biggers is originally from Sarnia and Joy said he was able to tap into his contacts in the city to make things happen.

"He had the access to a lot of good resources here and it's been an awesome experience for the boys," he said.

Almost all of the boys haven't even seen the ice for going on five months, said Joy, and he's surprised with how quickly they managed to bounce back into game mode after such a long layoff.

"Sarnia is a hockey hotbed and the pace of the hockey was phenomenal," he said. "The boys did really well after being off the ice for such a long time. This is really about giving the boys a chance to learn and develop and show them what it's going to take to compete at the Games."

The community took to the Nunavut boys, Joy added, with plenty of locals stopping to talk and learn about the territory.

"Sarnia was great to us," he said. "The stands at the arena were full for every game and everyone wanted to talk to us and learn about Nunavut. They really took to our style of play and this has been a unique and great experience for the kids."

Nunavut will be in tough at the Games and the coaching staff knows that as well. Joy is well aware of where the team sits in terms of the pecking order and he isn't expecting to see any giant-killings of any sort.

What he wants to see, he said, is the boys playing to their potential.

"The most important thing for these boys is to be relentless," he said. "Be a team with speed, lock things down defensively and maximize their skills. They should enjoy the journey and play to their best."

With Sarnia out of the way, the focus now turns to the next camp which could happen sometime in December or January, said Joy.

"We're hoping to have another two or three camps with the boys," he said. "The kids are all spread out around the territory so finances are always an issue. We'll be evaluating where we can go and what we can do going forward."

About the Author: James McCarthy

I'm the managing editor with NNSL Media and have been so since 2022.
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