'The future looks good': Territories' table tennis teams grow closer at Canada Games

The table tennis competition may have wrapped up at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., but the coaches of the teams hope to make the North a new hotbed for the sport.

Coaches from N.W.T., Yukon, Nunavut have begun unique partnership to grow the sport

Nunavut's Daniel Niptanatiak plays the N.W.T.'s Nikhilesh Gohil in Red Deer, Alta. The three territories have entered a unique partnership that includes a group chant, sharing of resources and hopes to start a regular Northern championship tournament. (Nick Murray/CBC)

The table tennis competition may have wrapped up at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., but the team coaches for the three territories are hoping the week was the start of a partnership to make the North a new hotbed for the sport.

Prior to the games, Yukon coach Kevin Murphy and Northwest Territories coach Thorsten Gohl held a combined camp, allowing both teams' players and coaches to learn from one another.

Once in Red Deer, they added Nunavut to the mix, trying to incorporate all three territories into a combined Northern cheer.

"We didn't quite get there," said Gohl, with a laugh. "But we tried."

The future looks good.- Kevin Murphy, Team Yukon table tennis coach

Murphy, the long-time coach of Team Yukon, said the idea to combine knowledge and resources began when Gohl moved to the North three years ago from B.C.

The sport had been dormant for years in the N.W.T., Murphy said, and Gohl "got them rolling."

"In some ways, we feel like we're hitching a ride on his coattails, but it's working well for us and for him," said Murphy. "And Nunavut, as far east as they are, are very much part of it too."

Daniel Niptanatiak takes direction from long-time coach Attila Csaba from Kugluktuk, Nunavut. Csaba has been working with coaches Kevin Murphy and Thorsten Gohl to deepen ties between the territories' teams. (Nick Murray/CBC)

But Murphy, Gohl, and Nunavut coach Attila Csaba have bigger plans.

Gohl has helped Murphy bring the sport into Yukon schools, and is hoping to do the same in Nunavut. He's also been able to use his connections to bring discounted tables and gear to other territories.

Eventually, the three territories hope to host a combined "Northern championships" that would take place in years that the Arctic Winter Games or Canada Winter Games are not held, said Murphy. That would allow new athletes to get a taste of tournament competition.

"I think it's feasible. It's going to require some drive from all territories," Murphy said. "Thor's brought some fresh perspective and ideas, and I welcome them."

1st in 40 years for Team N.W.T.

Gohl's move to the N.W.T. has revitalized the sport in the territory, perhaps best exemplified by the fact that the territory was able to send a team to the Canada Games at all.

The 2019 games was the first time in 40 years the territory has had a table tennis team.

Because of that, the partnership makes sense for all parties: while Yukon and Nunavut have more experienced athletes and more established programs, he brings a wealth of coaching and organizational knowledge, gained through years of working with Table Tennis Canada, said Gohl.

Yukon athletes Jake Tucker and Raghvi Sharma take direction from Kevin Murphy during a break, as N.W.T. coach Thorsten Gohl walks in the background. (Nick Murray/CBC)

"Table tennis will be the sport of the North," said Gohl.

"You can do it however you want. Cold temperatures, warm temperatures, grassroots to competitive, and even seniors," he explained, saying that people of all ages gravitate to the sport, and that it's relatively inexpensive to establish in even the most cold and remote Northern communities.

Though the athletes from the three territories weren't in medal contention at the 2019 Games, Murphy said that he sees big things in the future.

"The future looks good," he said. "And I hope to be a big part of that future."

With files from Nick Murray


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