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Pandemic won’t dull this blade

Wayne Quliit Kusugak riding out restrictions with big dreams in mind
Wayne Quliit Kusugak’s skate sharpening business at the Agnico Eagle Arena has suffered amid the many cancellations that have come with Covid. He’s thankful for these last few tournaments to end the season and hopes for a full hockey year come fall. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

Wayne Quliit Kusugak got a taste for skate sharpening as a child, and he couldn’t get enough.

“It’s always been my passion,” said Kusugak, who opened Quliit Skate Sharpening at the Agnico Eagle Arena in 2019.

“It started when I was eight or nine years old. My uncle Lorne had a hunting and fishing-slash-hockey business. He sold hockey sticks and he had an electric skate sharpener. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.”

When Rankin Inlet got its new arena, he opened his skate sharpening and equipment shop on the side while still working a day job.

He sharpens skates, repairs blades, sells equipment and keeps a hefty stock of hockey accessories – and that’s where he has his real fun.

“For me growing up, it was always about new things coming out, where I really needed to have it for hockey,” reminisces Kusugak. “That’s the fun part, having people come and say, ‘Ah you got anything new?’ Because I know how it feels. As a hockey player, wherever you go, different city, different town, you go to the skate shop, see what they have.”

But he didn’t get to run his shop for long when Covid shut everything down in March 2020.

He had been stocking up for upcoming tournaments at the time, so his shop was full of tape, laces, water bottles and more.

“I made a pretty big order for the tournaments that were coming up, and we were shut down,” he said.

That stock had to sit unused for months, until the arena opened again briefly later in the year, before continuing on a stop-and-start schedule due to pandemic restrictions.

Covid hasn’t just impacted his ability to open and serve tournaments, but also his ability to buy from suppliers.

“The people who normally order sticks and equipment off me, I couldn’t order them,” said Kusugak, adding it wasn’t just a problem for Rankin Inlet. “The supplier was saying, ‘I got nothing.’ CCM, nothing. Bauer, nothing.”

Tournaments are Kusugak’s bread and butter for his business, so capacity and travel restrictions have put up a real roadblock on his growth.

“Where I make my money is the sharpening part,” said Kusugak. “It’s $10 a sharpen. You think about it, there’s 17 to 20 players per team, two divisions. You add that all up, it’s quite a bit. I’m not a math guy or anything, but it is up there.”

A major tournament like the Terence Tootoo Memorial could net him in the range of $5,000, he estimated. All that money goes into future stock and building up his business for the next tournament, and so on and so forth.

Eventually, Kusugak dreams of opening a full-scale, year-round sports store in Rankin Inlet. He’d love to have equipment for soccer, volleyball, softball, badminton and every other sport played in the region.

“I want everything to go back to normal,” said Kusugak. “My plans are very big, but I have to do it step by step.”

Wayne Quliit Kusugak opened Quliit Skate Sharpening in 2019. The pandemic has slowed growth of his business, but he has big dreams in the long run. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo ᐅᐃᓐ ᖁᓖᑦ ᑯᓱᒐᖅ ᒪᑐᐃᖅᓯᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ ᖁᓖᑦ ᓯᐊᕐᕆᔮᕈᑎᓄᑦ ᐃᐱᒃᓴᕐᕕᖓᓂᒃ 2019-ᒥ. ᓄᕙᒡᔪᐊᕐᓂᖅ ᓱᑲᐃᓪᓕᑎᕆᓯᒪᔪᖅ ᓇᖕᒥᓂᖓᑕ ᐱᕈᖅᐸᓪᓕᐊᓂᕆᓇᔭᖅᑕᖓᓂᒃ, ᑭᓯᐊᓂ ᐊᖏᔪᓂᒃ ᑕᐅᑐᕐᕉᖅᑐᖅ ᓯᕗᓂᒃᓴᒥ.
Besides skate sharpening, Wayne Quliit Kusugak’s business offers all sorts of hockey equipment accessories – something even adults can’t help but admire when they look around. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo
Sharpening skates earns Wayne Quliit Kusugak $10 a pop, and that’s where he makes his money. A big tournament will see hundreds of people needing their skates sharpened. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo