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Rankin Inlet Falcons claim NAFN Tournament of Champions crown and $25,000 prize

The 2024 NAFN Tournament of Champions A-side winning Rankin Inlet Falcons are, back row, from left, Patrick Tagoona (coach), Matt Munroe, Kyle Tattuinee, Avaala Sabourin, Cody Dean, Tootoo Fotheringham, Keith Sigurdson, Stephane (Piqut) Nukapiak, Chase Stewart, Greg Wiseman and Liam Tattuinee. Middle row, from left, Seth Ningeongan, Pujjuut Kusugak, Jamie Kakia, JL Tagoona, Josh Trip and James Merritt. Philip Tagoona (water boy) is in front. Photo courtesy Rankin Inlet Falcons

The Rankin Inlet Falcons defeated the Sagkeeng Braves 5-2 to capture the A-side of the North American First Nations (NAFN) Tournament of Champions in Kenora, Ont., on March 31.

The win earned the Rankin team $25,000 in prize money. The Falcons went undefeated throughout the entire tournament.

The NAFN Tournament of Champions returned to Kenora in 2023, after a four-year hiatus.

Falcons forward Kyle Tattuinee said he found the event to be very similar to Rankin Inlet’s annual Terence Tootoo Memorial (TTM) senior men’s championship when it comes to the overall level of play.

He said, if anything, play at the Tournament of Champions may have been a little faster than at the TTM.

“The top teams will be the top teams at the TTM no matter what,” said Tattuinee. “Down there, it’s very similar, but, maybe, a wee bit faster, so you have to think faster. It’s a totally different atmosphere down there. But, even though you’re not at home anymore, the game of hockey is still the same.

“The atmosphere was totally amazing. It’s very, very close to the TTM in almost every way.”

The Rankin Falcons are also scheduled to travel to Saskatchewan to compete in the Fred Sasakamoose “Chief Thunderstick” National Hockey Championship in Saskatoon from May 16 to 19.

Tattuinee said the Sagkeeng Braves were a young, fast group of players, who were champing at the bit to defeat Rankin.

He said one of the key elements to Rankin’s win was the level of goaltending they received from Seth Ningeongan in the championship game.

“Their goalie was a youngster and not quite as experienced as the goalies we had (Ningeongan and James Merritt).

“They were an awesome team. We just had guys with more experience than they did. Seth was in net for us in the championship game. He’s gained a lot of experience playing in all these different Aboriginal tournaments down south.”

Tattuinee said the Falcons had a number of players who had a good idea of what to expect at the Tournament of Champions.

He said they led the way at the event and came to the tournament with one goal is mind – to win it all and that’s how it went.

“The fans seemed to love the way Rankin played. We were fast and creative, and we obviously had some good goal scorers.

“All in all, I think the crowd kind of warmed up to us a little bit. That was probably even more so because we came from so far away compared to the other teams there.

“It was just awesome, clean hockey from beginning to end.”

The end to this hockey season had a special feeling for Tattuinee, who got to play with his son, Liam, in both the TTM and the Tournament of Champions.

He said it’s a memory he won’t soon forget.

“It’s definitely a young man’s game today,” Tattuinee chuckled.

“The highlight of my tournament was playing with my son. I know, as a parent and a hockey player, as you get older, you have that aspiration, or a want, to get to play with your kid at a high level of hockey.

“I got to experience that at both the TTM and this tournament. And, just to see him grow as a hockey player – the development he’s gone through with this being his third year playing away from home – and to see how far he’s come is really quite something. At 17 he has legs for days, I like to say.

“So, having that experience and winning the tournament was an absolute blast. I even got to play on the same line as him. It was just awesome.”

About the Author: Darrell Greer, Local Journalism Initiative

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