It’s only fitting that the son of one of Nunavut’s founding fathers would score the winning goal on a team named after that very same man.
The Rankin Inlet Hometown Hockey Tournament emanated from the Rankin Inlet Arena from March 18 to 21 with eight teams in action but not just any eight teams. They were made up of players from the senior men’s hockey league, oldtimers league, U18 and U21 divisions. Each team was put together through a draft with each captain getting to pick from those signed up to play.
The final – and perhaps, most fitting – touch? Each of the eight teams was named after some of the elder fans who have passed on, those fans who were some of the most well-respected and well-known in the community.
Pujjuut Kusugak played on the team named after his late father, Jose Kusugak, and he said it was a special feeling to be able to do so.
“The organizers (including Troy Aksalnik) contacted to let me know they were hoping to do it and it was a great honour,” he said. “I asked my mom and sisters first to see if they were OK with it and they gave their blessing. It was a real classy gesture by the organizers to include people that we remember as being at the rink all the time, never missed a game, contributed so much to hockey here – it was very special.”
The teams were divided into two divisions with three games guaranteed in the round-robin and at least one playoff game. The winners of each divisional playoff game would advance to their respective final and it would be Team Jose Kusugak versus Team Kowmuk in the A division final while Team Misheralak and Team Tattuinee did battle in the B division decider.
In the A division final, Team Kowmuk opened the scoring courtesy of a goal from BJ Tanuyak before that was answered by Quentin Issaluk of Team Kusugak to tie the game at 1-1. Kris Okpatauyak, Craig Beardsall and Steven Panika would score three unanswered goals for Team Jose Kusugak to give them a 4-1 lead after two periods of play. Team Kowmuk would get one back thanks to Aglukaq Tartak to cut the lead in half, followed by another courtesy of Tristan Dias to cut the gap to 4-3.
Makpa Uluqsi would restore Team Jose Kusugak’s two-goal cushion at 5-3 but Team Kowmuk wasn’t done. Wendel Kaludjak scored on the power-play to make it 5-4 and Tristan Dias would get his second with less than three minutes to go to tie the game at 5-5.
Sudden-death overtime was required to decide it and that’s where Pujjuut Kusugak played the hero’s role as he banged in a puck which came off the glass and right in front of him to give his team a 6-5 win.
“We got fortunate on that one,” said Kusugak. “We had a couple of lucky bounces off the glass and one of those landed right at my stick. I had an empty net to look at and put it in.”
In the B division final, Team Misheralak would skate away victorious thanks to a 5-2 win over Team Tattuinee.
As with the minor hockey tournament held earlier this month, this tournament employed 12-minute periods for round-robin games and 15-minute periods for the playoffs. There were also no fans allowed in the stands due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Kusugak said it was a format which he felt went over well.
“It felt a little longer in the playoffs but it was good for the round-robin because every game took around one hour to play,” he said. “I think the format may stick around for a while.”