Iqaluit Blizzard novices bring gold back from Ontario tournament
Team's 4–1 victory caps five-game winning streak
There’s a new championship banner ready for hanging at the Arnaitok Arena, after the Iqaluit Blizzard novice hockey team played its way to a gold medal on Sunday, Jan. 13.
The team won all five games it played at the tournament, starting on Friday and leading up to a semi-final game on Sunday morning. To top things off, the team of 17 seven- and eight-year-old athletes won 4–1 in their gold medal final game at the Leitrim Hockey Association’s tournament in Ottawa.
The Nunavut team was cheered on by at least 30 people, many of them Nunavummiut who live in Ottawa, team manager Karen Dunphy said.
During the game, the tournament trophy could be easily seen, where it was set inside the penalty box.
“When I got that goal I was just thinking about the trophy,” one scoring player, Tooma Natsiq, 8, told Dunphy.
It was the semi-final game that saw the Blizzard come close to losing their lead. The score for that game was three goals to two until well into the third period.
“The kids, they really wanted to win,” Dunphy said. “They scored four goals in the last two minutes of the game.”
Before the big win, players amped up their adrenaline listening to “Who Let the Dogs Out” on their team bus, and dancing to “Thunderstruck” in the dressing room before the game.
“It’s all for fun for them. They live for hockey.”
The team named a most valuable player for each game of the tournament: Pearl Uluqsi for the first game, Jonah Liard for the second, Jayden Lewis for the third, goalie Evan Bell in the semi-final game, and Inuki Willman for the gold medal game.
A first-time goalie, Bell kept the last game going, blocking three potential goals that looked too close for comfort.
“We were all holding our breath,” Dunphy said.
There are around 50 children in Iqaluit’s novice hockey group, but these 17 players came together as a team following tryouts in mid fall. There were 12 teams in their tournament division.
Leading up to the tournament, the players practiced stopping and racing, as well as their puck work.
“We worked on a lot of passing, skating, working together,” Dunphy said. “You need to be a great skater to be a good hockey player.”
Besides having never played outside of its house league, the Blizzard was also the only group in the tournament not from Ontario.
“They got to go into the arena like stars,” Dunphy said.
And, leave it as stars.
When the buzzer sounded for the last period in that final game, the young players rushed as a group to crowd their goalie, throwing up their gloves in celebration.
“It’s the first time most of them have ever played in a tournament like this,” said Dunphy. “They’re going to remember this forever.”