Team NWT nearly rounded out

Second week of Arctic Winter Games trials finalizes rosters for all sports except snowboarding

James McCarthy | NWT
January 23, 2016

Team NWT is ready to roll for the 2016 Arctic Winter Games.

Except for snowboarding, that is.

Snowboarding held its territorial trials on Jan. 23 after receiving a one-week reprieve but the remainder of the sports are now finalized following the second week of trials held around the NWT from Jan. 14 to 16.

Wrestling, badminton, Arctic sports, Dene games, snowshoeing and table tennis held its events to see who would get seats on the planes and they now have their teams set.

Badminton has a team of eight athletes plus four alternates and will be led into battle by head coach Julie Jeffery.

Jeffery said they were among the best of the bunch that tried out over the three days of competition.

“In terms of playing, coachability and all that other stuff,” she said. “They were on the top of the list.”

All of the juvenile players are new to the AWG experience as it’s the youngest group. The junior group will feature Aodhan Mooney of Yellowknife and Christina Bonnetrouge of Fort Providence, who will be back to compete. Daniel Melanson of Hay River is also back and will play in the junior boys division.

There were games played to see who can handle the pressure of being in that game situation but Jeffery said there’s more to than just being able to hit a shuttle back and forth.

“There’s the ability to hit a shot and know where to put it on the court,” she said. “There’s also the knowledge of the different versions we play – singles, doubles and mixed doubles. We wanted to make sure that their all-around play was good.” She also said the one thing she kept telling the players was the best shot at an ulu was in doubles but any ulu of any colour will most likely have to be won by going through the Greenlandic contingent as they are almost always the team to beat when it comes to badminton.

But Jeffery said it’s not a case of either beating Greenland or bust.

“Just watching the kids and from past experiences at the Arctic Winter Games, there’s a good chance at medalling in a couple of events,” she said. “I’m excited about seeing how we match up against the other contingents but I think we have a real good chance in our juvenile division.” The big thing badminton has going for it is its territorial championships happening next month and Jeffery said that will tell a lot about what the team’s expectations will be.

“We’ll work toward that and see how well the team is working together,” she said.

Dene games was held in Fort Smith with plenty of participation from around the territory.

Peter Daniels oversaw the affairs there and he said there will be a team of 16 competitors in the open men’s, junior male, junior female and juvenile female categories and they will be competing in handgames, pole push, stick pull, snow snake and finger pull.

It’s an event where the NWT always does well in but he said success won’t come without challenges from some talented athletes.

“Nunavik, Greenland and Alaska are always a big threat,” he said. “Greenland seems to be a machine in the pole push. They have some big, strong people and they also have great communication.” In pole push, teams can’t push the pole forward but they can move backward to move it and Daniels said for some reason, that’s where Greenland’s strength is.

“They always seem to catch teams off guard with that,” he said. “They notice a team moving a certain way and they capitalize on that.”

Handgames is where the NWT is always an ulu threat but again, Nunavik will be a team to beat as will Northern Alberta, said Daniels.

But when it comes down to it, Daniels said he just wants the athletes to take in the entire experience.

“Medals are nice but taking home what the experience was all about is the most important thing,” he said.

The same can be said for Donald Kuptana, who looked after Arctic sports in Inuvik.

Kuptana said it will be a strong team heading to Greenland and that’s thanks in large part to the work the elders have done in the communities.

“It’s so great to see people like Ernie Bernhardt working with youth and passing on what he knows,” he said. “The elders encourage young people to never give up. Some athletes will take longer and some will get it right away but if you play the games long enough, you will get better.” It could be said that Arctic sports are the highlight of the Games because of the sheer athletic ability on display in terms of leaping in the kicking events and endurance in events such as the knuckle hop and airplane.

As with Daniels, Kuptana said medals aren’t the biggest thing about the competition.

“The real goal is just to do well,” he said. “The respect is always there among the athletes and that’s so important. You’ll find out you’re never alone because everyone talks to everyone, especially those athletes who may be struggling, and they help them improve. That’s the most important thing.”

See the next edition of NWT News/North for the snowboarding recap.