Nunavut gets ready to send its 1st hockey team to the Canada Winter Games
Players from across the territory practice in Yellowknife
Team Nunavut's hockey team will be competing on an elite stage next year when it takes to the ice for the first time in the Canada Winter Games.
The Canada Winter Games is a venue where, every four years, young athletes from across the country get the chance to show their skills in front of a national audience.
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"It's the top 260 players across Canada," said Martin Joy, coach of Team Nunavut.
"If you look at the averages, you almost have a better chance of getting into the NHL than you do to the Canada Winter Games in hockey … It has to land on your birth year and then you have to make the team."
Joy says the process of building a team good enough to compete in the Canada Winter Games began four years ago with a group of coaches that focused on developing strong hockey skills. He called the end result "transformational."
"This year is about basically creating the whole player, not just a hockey player," he said.
"Meeting with media, being in front of scouts down there, introducing yourself. It's all those aspects of the game."
The 20 players who make up Team Nunavut mostly hail from Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet, Coral Harbour and Whale Cove. They were in Yellowknife this week to play some games and hold practices, marking the first time they've all been together since the summer.
Max Joy, from Iqaluit, is the captain of Team Nunavut.
He said the players are all excited to see each other and are looking forward to competing on what he called the "biggest stage" in Canada.
We're trying hard, and we've got to get better day by day.- Josie Cote, player
"I'm pretty nervous," he said about competing in Games. "Really excited but at the same time, yeah, nervous."
Max says last winter's Arctic Winter Games in Hay River and Fort Smith, N.W.T., laid the foundation for Team Nunavut to prepare for the Canada Winter Games. The players also met up in Sarnia, Ont., this summer for a week-long camp.
Sixteen-year-old Josie Cote, from Iqaluit, plays centre and right wing.
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He says it's "very special" to have the opportunity to train with his team.
"We've got to represent Nunavut good," he said. "So we're trying hard, and we've got to get better day by day."
Pamela Pilakapsi, from Rankin Inlet, travelled to Yellowknife to watch her son, Xzavier Kubluitok play. She hasn't seen him in a while because he's been in Pilot Mound, Man., to play hockey.
"I'm so proud," she said. "I haven't watched him play hockey since the Arctic Winter Games [in March]."
The Canada Winter Games are scheduled to be held Feb. 15 to March 13 in Red Deer, Alta.
With files from Juanita Taylor