Kadin Eetuk’s goal with less than a minute to play propelled the Rankin Rock to a 1-0 win over the Selkirk Fisherman and earned the Bantam A1 Division championship at the Winnipeg Jets Challenge Cup tournament in Winnipeg, Man., on Dec. 30.
Rankin’s A1 Division featured Selkirk and eight teams from Winnipeg.
The Rock were in the middle bracket of the tournament, which also featured action in bantam AAA, AA, A2 and A3 divisions.
Rankin went 4-0 in round-robin play and defeated the same Selkirk team in their final round-robin game to secure first place.
The Rock then got past the Winnipeg Canucks 5-0 in the semifinal to set-up the championship tilt with the Fishermen.
Bubsy Kusugak accompanied the Rock and head coach David Clark to Winnipeg as an assistant coach for the first time.
Kusugak said the only other time he was behind the bench was when he was doing it for volunteer hours while he was still in high school.
He said Clark was in need of some help at the tournament and he decided to go along and help out where he could.
“It’s a bit different perspective being behind the bench rather than out on the ice playing but not really all that much because hockey is hockey,” said Kusugak.
“We were pretty confident about our chances with the teams in our pool, especially as the round robin went along, but I wasn’t really sure of the caliber of play going on in the other pool.
“You’re kept really busy at tournaments like this and it seems like you have to be at so many places at once that you can’t possibly watch all the games.
“In the end it didn’t matter because Selkirk eliminated the top team in the other pool and we ended up playing them again for the championship in a really rough game.”
Kusugak said the Rock had beat Selkirk in the round robin and the team was confident going into the final.
He said even though the Fishermen had some really big players on defence, he was confident the Rock’s smaller but faster players could get the job done.
“I had told Kadin (Eetuk) he burned this team in the round robin and he could do it again in the final because he could use his speed to beat those slow-moving defencemen and it worked out for us.
“After Kadin scored with 56 seconds left, I think it was, everyone was getting so pumped up on the bench, but it was stop time so you can’t really take anything for granted.
“You don’t want anybody ready to celebrate on the bench before that final buzzer goes, that’s for sure, because you know how quickly things can turn around on you.
“Selkirk shot themselves in the foot by taking a penalty during that final minute and we just shut them down to take it.”
Kusugak said you couldn’t help but be excited on the bench during such an even game that was well into the third period and still tied at 0-0.
He said it was a lot of fun to be behind the bench, watching Clark work the team and lead it to victory.
“It was like being in a time machine and watching his dad (Donald Clark) coaching again,” laughed Kusugak.
“David and I have played together since we were younger than bantam age and we were mostly coached by Donald and Steve (Faulkner), so to hear Donald’s words coming out of David’s mouth was pretty awesome.
“I mean David’s got his own personality and way of going about things but there’s a lot of his dad’s influence mixed-in there too.
“We had just about everyone on our side down there and you want to leave a good impression – a good taste in people’s mouths – at these tournaments because often it’s the first time people get exposed to people from Rankin or Nunavut, or Inuit in general for that matter, so why not try to leave a good impression.”
Kusugak said the experience piqued his interest in possibly getting involved with coaching minor hockey.
He said he doesn’t know what the future holds but, right now, he’s thinking why not get more involved?
“The tournament was so much fun and the kids had so much fun, so that makes an impression on you for sure.
“These kids are starting to become young adults, so it’s cool to see a little bit of maturation taking place and I’d like to see how far some of these kids go.
“I’m not too sure about getting more involved but I think I might.
“But, for now, this was a real rewarding experience and I didn’t do a thing to earn it. I just helped the kids out and they took home the gold, so I’m very proud of them.”