The 2019 Canada Winter Games are underway in Red Deer, Alta., and it was table tennis which kicked things off for Nunavut.

Conner McKay-Ivanko of Hay River, left, awaits the serve from Caleb Bolt of Kugluktuk during table tennis action at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., on Feb. 16.
Peter Fuzessery/Canada Winter Games photo

The boys and girls team competitions were the first orders of business for the territory on Feb. 16 and the boys had themselves quite a good run as they managed to get to the quarter-finals before losing to Newfoundland and Labrador by a score of 3-1 in matches.

Kugluktuk’s Attila Csaba, the team’s head coach, said Newfoundland and Labrador was just a bit better than his boys were.

“Daniel (Niptanatiak) did very well,” he said. “He won his singles match but the rest of the team lost in close games.”

The boys started off in group play by taking on Yukon and the NWT. Yukon was up first and it was a back-and-forth affair but Nunavut won out in the end by a score of 3-2. Kyshton Kalai of Coral Harbour was the hero as he won the final singles match to clinch victory.

“Kyshton played very well,” said Csaba. “He was in Kugluktuk for our camp before we came to the Games.”

Csaba said it’s important to win the doubles match, which is always the first match of the team competition, but his boys took a bit of time to get going.

“They were a bit nervous in that first game,” he said.

Niptanatiak, who hails from Kugluktuk, won both of his singles games before Kalai’s heroics in the final contest.

Up next was the NWT and that went a bit easier as Nunavut won in three straight matches but Csaba said he wasn’t taking the opposition lightly.

“The NWT has improved quite a bit over the past three years,” he said. “We’ve just been able to practice together more because most of our team is from Kugluktuk so we are together most of the time and we practice more often.”

Because the boys finished first in their group, they advanced to the quarter-final, where they took on Newfoundland and Labrador, which ended in defeat.

The girls, meanwhile, were also in action in team competition and they, too, ended up meeting Newfoundland and Labrador in later action but first, it was a meeting with Yukon in pool play. Since they were the only two teams in their pool, the winner would advance to the next stage of the competition. Kimberly Hokanak and Layla Demerah, both from Kugluktuk, started out by winning their doubles match to open things up while Mackenzie Demerah joined her sister by winning their singles matches to help Nunavut advance.

Against Newfoundland and Labrador, Hokanak and Layla Demerah weren’t as fourtunate this time around in doubles and they lost that match. Mackenzie Demerah lost her singles match to put the girls behind the 8-ball but Layla Demerah won her singles match to keep Nunavut’s hopes alive. Hokanak, though, lost in straight sets to end the girls’ run.

The players will be right back at it again as the boys, girls and mixed doubles will happen later on today. The mixed doubles will feature the top players from each gender playing together while the boys and girls doubles will have the other two players from each team joining forces.

Csaba said it may sound like a weird system but he understands why it’s being done.

“You need to have good players in order to win so it’s all about development,” he said. “You cannot just have your top players playing everything so (the organizers) have decided to have just the top players for each team play mixed doubles.”

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