Four years in the making boiled down to a collection of firsts for Team Nunavut at the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
In their first-ever appearance in the men’s hockey competition at the Games, Nunavut also skated away with its first victory. They knocked off Team Yukon 5-3 Sunday at Servus Arena, a milestone win they won’t soon forget.
“It feels amazing. We came into this tournament as underdogs. We haven’t been to this tournament, it’s our first time. It’s a big opportunity for us. The greatest thing was winning our first game, in our first Canada Winter Games experience,” said Team Nunavut forward Josie Cote.
“We put all the work in. We were notified in June we were on the team. The boys put all the work in. All the boys don’t play organized hockey, they play for fun. It’s very fun for us.”
Cote was instrumental in the historic win, with a pair of goals, including an empty-net tally that capped the scoring for his side.
Nunavut head coach Martin Joy said Cote embodied all the qualities that his team brought to the table. He added when the final buzzer sounded and his team stormed the ice, the emotion was overwhelming for the entire group.
“Utter elation when we’re out there,” Joy said.
“You’re always nervous with the goalie pulled, you want to make sure the puck comes out. For us, it was like, wow, we did it. We’re here… the guys all respect each other and love each other and they’re here to play whatever role they can.”
In the first period, Nunavut jumped out to a 1-o lead on a goal from Bradley Fraser but Team Yukon quickly bounced back after a goal by Ashton Underhill.
Brayden Uluqsi and captain Maxwell Joy buried for Nunavut in the second, while Owen Palfreyman and Landon Marsh had tallies for Yukon.
Tied at three in the third, Nunavut capitalized on a 4-on-3 advantage. The captain slipped a great pass to Cote who wired a one-timer home to give his side the lead.
Late in the game, Nunavut starting goalie Inuukie Burke had to leave the ice for a few minutes and backup Deion Ipirq-Pearce made a game-saving stop on a breakaway. The head coach noted that moment also symbolized how unified his group was.
“He made an amazing save to keep it going,” Joy said.
“For us, it was about keeping our composure. You bend a little bit, the fact that these guys never broke, that’s a testament to the character of the team.”
Cote iced the game with an empty net goal.
Nunavut’s journey to the tournament ramped up in Ottawa last week, where they got to skate with former Senators Chris Neil and Chris Phillips. From that time forward Joy wasn’t sure what to expect from his group but was beaming with pride after the victory Sunday.
I think guys will start to relax and enjoy the whole experience,” he said.
“Realize where they are and they can compete. That was the biggest fear, we weren’t sure where they were. They showed it out on the ice, yeah we’re here and we have nothing to be afraid of.”