The Arviat Wolves claimed the first ever Bantam Rock hockey championship with a nerve-wracking 1-0 final win over the Rankin Rock in Rankin Inlet on Jan. 21.
The Wolves were co-coached at the Jan. 19-21 event by Billy Ollie and Andrew Kuksuk.
Arviat got past the Naujaat/Chesterfield Inlet squad in one semifinal, while the Rock defeated Coral Harbour in the other to set up the championship game.
A split Rankin and Baker Lake team did not advance to the medal round.
Ollie said he felt confident the Wolves would be competitive on their way to Rankin. He said he knew the team was ready because the players worked hard at practice and never stopped skating, and there was a real positive vibe surrounding the team.
“The turning point for me was when we showed we could play with Coral Harbour in the round robin,” said Ollie.
“We lost by a goal to Coral, but they were one of the favoured teams and we stayed right with them.
“I knew then we could win it all.
“We weren’t shaken by losing our first two games, and, at that point, we knew we could compete with every team there.”
Ollie said the Wolves received excellent goaltending during the tournament, and the team played strong defensively.
He said he and Kuksuk did a little tinkering with the lineup as the tourney progressed, and everything worked out perfectly.
“We switched a couple of our forwards from left-wing to centre and right-wing, and the moves worked pretty well.
“We also watched the other teams’ games to see how they played, and we came up with who we wanted to match them against, and that went well for us too.
“It was crazy on our bench during the final 10 minutes, but we trusted our players to finish the job.”
The lone goal of the game was of the fluky variety, scored by the Wolves in the first period.
Ollie said the way the two goalies were playing, he had a feeling that one goal just might stand up as the winner.
“It was just a garbage goal and it saved us.
“Our players checked hard all game, and we were lucky to shut them down and win the tournament.
“They were proud of themselves and their teammates, and many of them kept talking about winning a big game like that 1-0.
“We had a warm welcome back in Arviat. Everyone congratulated us and told us we did a good job.”
Kuksuk said the tournament was well-organized, fun and competitive, and the hospitality in Rankin was just great.
He said the Arviat players will remember that weekend for a long, long time.
“Some of our players were a little nervous after losing our first two round-robin games,” said Kuksuk.
“I told them in the dressing room if they didn’t start skating harder, there wouldn’t be any gold coming home with us and that’s when they started to pump up.
“When we defeated the Naujaat/Chester team in the semifinal, I knew we were going to be hard to beat in the final.
“They beat us 7-5 in the round robin, but we weren’t skating and hitting like we were in the semifinal.”
Kuksuk said the Wolves played sound defensive hockey all weekend.
He said they kept their game simple and, after the first two losses, used their speed to keep steady pressure on the other teams.
“I wouldn’t have thought when we went up 1-0 in the final that there wouldn’t be another goal scored because most of the games were 5-3 or 6-4, with lots of goals being scored.
“I was sweating like I was playing hockey myself during the final 10 minutes, and I’ve never yelled so much during a hockey game before.
“It was a little overwhelming after we won, with the players all yelling, smiles everywhere I looked and parents calling from Arviat to congratulate them.
“The airport was crowded when we got home, and there were bells ringing and parents clapping. We were in awe!”