The longstanding rivalry between Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens fans in Rankin Inlet is powerful enough that it sometimes divides families.
But when the two teams met in the playoffs for the first time since 1979, an unusual bet between two cousins had the unlikely effect of uniting the community.
At the outset of the series, diehard Leafs fan Wendel Kaludjak and Habs supporter Jonathan Pameolik decided to put a wager on the outcome.
Rather than placing money on the table, they agreed that whoever’s team lost the series would have to ice fish on Williamson Lake for two hours.
The only catch is, Williamson Lake is not stocked with fish, which made the bet all the more absurd and amusing.
“Everyone in town here knows there’s no fish in the lake,” Pameolik told Kivalliq News. “There’s a long history there. There used to be fish in the lake but there’s not anymore.”
Pameolik said the wager was originally proposed between two other friends in town but one of them wasn’t willing to accept it, so Pameolik decided to adopt the idea for his bet with Kaludjak.
“We thought it was a very funny bet at first,” Pameolik told Kivalliq News.
As the series kicked off, the two cousins would chirp at each other every time they crossed paths.
“Whenever we saw each other (we’d say), ‘You’re going fishing. No, you’re going fishing.’”
Soon enough, news of the bet travelled on social media, until it was finally picked up by CBC, which ran a segment on it halfway through the series.
“If you Google ‘Leafs Habs bet Rankin Inlet’ there’s every news outlet reposting about the bet,” said Pameolik. “We didn’t realize there would be that much interest.”
By the time Toronto built a dominant lead in the series, Pameolik admittedly started to get nervous.
“When we were down three games to one, that was a harsh reality, thinking I might be the one out there fishing,” he said.
But in typical Leafs fashion, the Toronto team caved and allowed Montreal to force seventh and final game.
“My hopes weren’t that high, but come Game 7 I knew Carey Price would be too good of a goalie to fight against,” Pameolik said.
After Montreal won the final game, Kaludjak made his way onto the lake in the middle of town and started jigging for non-existent fish. Because the whole community was already following the series and the bet, the event drew a huge crowd.
“There was 109 vehicles counted surrounding the lake, honking horns and giving cheers,” said Pameolik.
Despite it being cold and windy, Kaludjak endured the whole two hours on the ice as people cheered him on.
“There was lots of support for Wendel,” said Pameolik. “He sat there for two hours and we had a lot of laughs.”
The bet even caught the attention of local MLA Cathy Towtongie, who mentioned it in the legislative assembly.
“I rarely even speak about anything related to hockey. Nonetheless, yesterday I believe everyone in Rankin Inlet was observing our local lake,” she said. “It became quite a joyous event for some, as the fans of the Montreal Canadiens drove by honking their horns the entire length of the road, and although Wendel didn’t catch a fish, he stuck to the bet and spent two hours jigging in the middle of the lake.”