Nunavut’s No. 1 wrestler was back out on the road again over the past few weeks and it looks like he’s found himself a new favourite style.

Eekeeluak Avalak of Cambridge Bay and his coach, Chris Crooks, were in Alberta for two major national events: the Canadian Junior Wrestling Trials in Edmonton in late May, followed by the Canadian U19 Wrestling Championships in Calgary from June 9 to 12. It was Avalak’s first action since the Alberta Open back in March.

Avalak began with the junior freestyle and wrestled in the 57-kg weight class, the lightest in the competition. His first contest came against Jaren Bhullar of B.C. and he would win that by pinfall to move into the second round, where he would square off with Lucas DiPonio of Ontario. Avalak would win that by technical superiority (mercy rule of a 10-point differential or more), 13-2 to advance to the quarter-final against Fotis Papadopoulos of Ontario.

That’s where Avalak would suffer his first loss, a 10-0 technical superiority defeat, meaning he was out of the running for gold but he still had an outside chance at bronze. Next up was Marques Calapiz of B.C., but that also ended in defeat, 10-0, and the best Avalak could do was fifth. He had to beat Tristen Cako of Ontario but Avalak was pinned in 27 seconds.

Crooks said Avalak simply got caught by someone who obviously did his homework prior to the match.

“We tried to make adjustments for that match and Eekee must’ve been scouted by that guy,” he said. “He knew exactly what to do and Eekee got caught in a leg trap. That’s something we haven’t worked on before but I told him it’s good to lose. That way, we know what it’s going to take to win and we can work on it. The wins will come but right now, it’s focusing on training to be competitive.”

After the freestyle portion, it was on to the Canadian Junior Greco-Roman Wrestling Championships at the same venue. Greco-Roman wrestling differs from freestyle in that it’s all upper-body — no leg moves whatsoever. Avalak had never competed in a Greco-Roman competition at all before entering that one.

“We fooled around with it back home,” said Crooks. “It’s much bigger in Europe, not a lot of funding for it here in Canada because it’s considered an add-on.”

Avalak was the only one entered in his weight class, meaning he won by default, but he still wrestled in a couple of exhibition matches.

Crooks said the matches were crowd-pleasers.

“He went up against a senior wrestler at the same weight and lost that one, 16-14,” he said. “He fought a heavier guy after that and won, 22-12. The crowd were right into both of his matches and he put on a good show.”

By virtue of those exhibition performances, Avalak was named the most outstanding Greco-Roman wrestler of the event by the organizers for his “tenacity, throws and never-say-die attitude”.

After a training week in Edmonton, it was off to Calgary for the next meet, where Avalak would fight in the U19 57-kg weight class. He received a bye in the first round and would face Ebraheim Aldrar of Manitoba in round two. It would be an 18-8 technical superiority defeat, meaning he was out of gold medal contention but still in with a chance for bronze. Unlike in Edmonton, he would get that bronze medal as he beat Kaden Smith of Alberta, Joseph Thang of Alberta and Kalub Scaiano of B.C., all by technical superiority, to finish third and hit the podium.

“The goal in Calgary was to win but it wasn’t an easy draw,” said Crooks. “He was up against the no. 1 seed on his first match and he got caught again with some unfamiliar moves and that’s all a lack of experience, not having enough matches and not knowing what to do in certain situations. Nerves got to him in that first match also but he handled his next matches really well after that.”

And like in Edmonton, Avalak entered the Greco-Roman event and won all four of his matches in the first round to emerge victorious and win gold.

“Eekee knew going in that the best wrestlers would probably focus on freestyle,” he said. He really likes Greco-Roman more than freestyle and he wants to do more. Problem is if he does, he’ll probably have to leave Canada to do it because there just isn’t the training here. It’s more competitive over in Europe.”

Avalak went into this trip with a lot on his mind. He lost his cousin a week before to suicide and, in a post on social media, he said adversity will always be a part of life.

“It was difficult to focus on competing following the death of my cousin, but I took courage knowing he would want me to continue forward and do my best,” he said. “I didn’t get the results I was aiming for in freestyle, but I kept my chin up and proceeded to wrestle to a strong third place finish in my last U19 competition.”

He also said coming from a fly-in community curing Covid-19, training and competing have been difficult, but he gave credit to a lot of people for helping him out.

“With the support of Chris (Crooks), Paula (Cziranka-Crooks), the Edmonton Wrestling Club and everyone else in my circle, I was able to achieve some of my goals,” he said. “Without all the support and time put into me, I wouldn’t have achieved some of these goals and I’d like to thank you all for the support I’ve received.”

Next up for Avalak and Crooks will be the Canada Summer Games in Ontario in August but it will be a busy training time before that for the entire team of two girls and six boys from five communities.

“We’re planning on three weeks of training in Cambridge Bay and then, it’s off to Edmonton in July, followed by a week in Rocky Mountain House, back to Edmonton for 10 days and then fly out to Ontario for the Games,” said Crooks.

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