The Rankin Football Club (RFC) tore through the opposition to claim the first futsal national-club-qualifier tournament ever held in Nunavut earlier this month in Rankin Inlet.

Longtime FC player Kris Okpatauyak said the majority of the players on the club are the same age, and have great chemistry as a team because they’ve been playing together since they were about 12 or 13.

The futsal soccer Rankin FC, back row from left, Hunter Nakoolak, Chad Graham, Paul Stroeder (coach) Kris Okpatauyak, Trent Aksawnee and Natuk Ford, and middle from left, Carlo Issaluk, Brian Nilaulak, James Merritt, Chris Ussak and Shawn Makkigak, and Uujuq Pilakapsi, front, earned the right to compete at the national level by taking the first futsal national-club-qualifier tournament to be held in Rankin Inlet on Feb. 11. Missing from photo is Seamas Ayaruak. photo courtesy of Kris Okpatauyak

He said this tournament had a lot on the line and he and his teammates can’t wait to compete at the national championship this coming April in Kingston, Ont.

“We’ve had the same core of players for a very long time now, and that can often be the difference in a tournament,” said Okpatauyak.

“Coming up, it was always competitive between the two age divisions, 14 and 16, and lately we’ve been training and practicing together, and that’s helped us a lot too.

“There were some of us interested in playing basketball too, when we were first starting out, but basketball never had a good coach and soccer did, so that might have been the difference.

“It will really mean something big to me if we win at the nationals, and we were talking to a referee who was in Rankin and liked what he saw in our club, and he said if we keep practicing hard we might just have a chance of winning it.”

Paul Stroeder agreed to become the FC’s head coach heading into the national qualifier.

Stroeder said he was asked to help the FC with the rules of futsal by team captain Chad Graham, and, if they were to make the nationals, they’d have someone who understands the rules to attend the coaches meetings and be able to properly relay all the information to the players.

He said the national tournament runs from April 19-22, and the Rankin FC are hoping to arrive a few days early to take part in some exhibition games with futsal clubs in the Ottawa region.

“There’s no doubt the Rankin FC was the best team of the five that competed in the Rankin qualifier,” said Stroeder.

“This team could really compete in Kingston because they’re a good group of guys who have played together for a long time, communicate well, and really understand each other and how they need to play.

“They will have to adapt to the bigger field, however, because instead of a small gymnasium we’ll be playing on quite a large hardwood floor.

“That’s going to be a big change for them, because now they’re going to have to spread out more, and their passes are going to have to be crisp and right on the money or they’ll constantly lose the ball.”

Stroeder said Rankin appearing at a national event is huge for futsal in Nunavut.

He said it shows the young players who are turning 18 or 19 years of age and have no more Nunavut Soccer Association territorials to play in are realizing, if they stick together, they could potentially go to a national qualifier in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet or Cambridge Bay and earn a chance to continue playing at a high level, rather than hanging up the cleats.

“I hope Rankin’s appearance in Kingston will put Nunavut on the national futsal map,”Stroeder said.

“I think a lot of people are going to be really impressed with us.

“These guys have a pretty big ‘it’ factor, and I think they’re going to do good in Kingston.

“Just imagine if they were to win the nationals, then they’d go to the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) futsal playdowns to earn a chance to compete at the world championship.”

Stroeder said the growth of futsal in Canada has been quite impressive.

He said the number of competitive teams vying for a national title has been growing in leaps and bounds.

“There were only three teams competing for the men’s national futsal title this past year (Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan), while, this year, eight teams are competing.

“We’ll play a three-game round robin in one of the pools and see what happens from there.

“Futsal has been around for 60 years in Africa, Europe, Asia and South America, but it’s only been the past decade that it’s really taking root in Canada and the Unites States.”

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