Kivalliq Canucks head coach Donald Clark is already beginning his plans for the 2019 Challenge Cup after losing a heartbreaking series to the Baffin Blizzard on home ice in Rankin Inlet on Feb. 22.
The Canucks captured game-one of the best-of-three Challenge Cup junior ‘C’ championship by a score of 5-2, before dropping the next two, and the series, to Baffin.
The win gives Baffin the right to represent Hockey North at the Maritime Hockey North Junior ‘C’ Championship from April 4-8 at the South Shore Actiplex at Crapaud, Prince Edward Island.
Clark said while the Canucks didn’t have the star power of a player like Wendel Kaludjak going into the Challenge Cup, he saw the team as a very good unit going-up against the Blizzard.
He said in the end, the lack of a “go-to-guy” on the Canucks may have cost them.
“The turning point in game two was when our goalie got a penalty for delay of game with the score tied 1-1 and Baffin scored on the powerplay,” said Clark.
“There was still quite a bit of time left in the game, but they got the jump on us with that power play goal and we never recovered.”
Baffin went on to claim game two 4-1, and took the deciding game by a score of 3-1.
Clark said the Canucks aren’t used to losing consecutive Cups, and he’s frustrated over the fact the team won’t be competing in the Maritimes this year.
But, he said, he and assistant coach Steve Faulkner discussed the situation and, as of right now, they’re willing to take on the challenge again next year and to try and regain the championship for the Kivalliq.
“The Challenge Cup was scheduled to go the weekend after the Polar Bear Plate, but the Baffin organizer asked if it would be possible to run the tournament through the week so they wouldn’t have the additional cost of going home and then coming back again,” said Clark. “That would have cost them another $20,000 to come back, so we agreed to it because money is such a big factor in all of this. We selected our team on the final day of the Plate (Feb. 18), Monday was an off-day, and then we started right into the Challenge Cup on Tuesday (Feb. 20), but we only had half of our team able to practice because five or six of our players were attending school.”
“I’m not one to make excuses, and saving the money was a great idea, but I don’t think I’d go down that road again of having the Polar Bear Plate and the Challenge Cup so close together,” he continued.
Clark said the organizers are thankful for the money received from Hockey Nunavut in support of the Polar Bear Plate, but it was disappointing for both the Canucks and the Blizzard to be told at the beginning of the Challenge Cup that there would be no funding coming from Hockey Nunavut for the winning team.
He said it’s a difficult challenge for either the Baffin or the Kivalliq to come up with the $60,000 they need to compete in the Maritimes tournament each year.
“It can be done, but it’s a lot of work to raise $60,000.
“But to know you’re going there to represent Hockey Nunavut, but be told there’s no funding available, then I would say we should be representing Kivalliq hockey and not Hockey Nunavut or Hockey North.”
Clark said the Kivalliq is pretty healthy in terms of players coming up through the bantam and midget ranks.
He said the team Baker Lake had at the Polar Bear Plate was, with the exception of four or five players, basically a midget team, and there were a lot of young players overall involved with this year’s Plate.
“The future looks good for the Kivalliq having competitive teams for the Challenge Cup. We’ve looked at other possibilities, but it’s tough to find other tournaments for that age group and the money dictates everything,” said Clark. “Next year, for example, we have to raise the money to travel to Iqaluit for the Challenge Cup and, if we’re successful, then we’ll have to travel to New Brunswick for the Maritime tournament, so it’s costly.”
The Kivalliq had a number of players age out this year, including Jimmy Ishalook of Arviat, KJ Putulik of Chesterfield Inlet, and Coral Harbour’s Wesley Siutinuar and Ethan Matoo.
Clark said the Canucks are losing a lot of experience from their back end, but, at the same time, that opens the door for new players to come in and fill that role.
“Baffin scored nine goals winning the Challenge Cup in three games this year and, I’d say, 60 to 70 per cent of those goals were scored on the powerplay,” said Clark. “Every time we took a penalty it seemed to hurt us, but we had our chances and just couldn’t find the back of the net.
“But that’s the way it goes sometimes and now they’re moving on and we’re staying home,” said Clark. “But the series was close and we’ll be back next year looking for a bit different of a result.”