Once again, the Rankin Rock faced defeat in the big game after an impressive tournament run, as the Baffin Blizzard held on for a 4-3 victory to claim the 2019 Polar Bear Plate juvenile-junior tournament in Rankin Inlet on Feb. 17.
It was a particularly tough loss for head coach Donald Clark, who is stepping away from the junior ‘C’ program after he takes Nunavut’s team to the Maritime-Hockey North Junior ‘C’ Championship one final time this coming March 27 to 31 at the Ayr Motor Centre in Woodstock, N.B.
Clark said he liked the level of goaltending he saw across the board at the Plate, and he was impressed with a young Whale Cove squad taking bronze at the event.
He said he felt early in the tournament the final would come down to the Rankin Rock and Baffin Blizzard teams.
“The difference in the final game was that the Baffin finished when they got their chances and we didn’t,” said Clark.
“It was 4-2 going into the third period and we made it 4-3 on a penalty shot to get close, but we took three or four penalties in the third period and, when you’re trying to play catch up, you can’t be taking penalties like that.
“That’s especially true when it’s three-minute penalties in run time, and it’s hard to go on the offensive when you’re shorthanded so much.
“I found the two teams were very evenly matched. We made a few mistakes that ended up in our net and that was that.”
Turning his attention to the junior ‘C’ program, Clark said the lack of funding to support the program was the main reason for his decision to skate away following this season.
He said there was no funding made available for the Challenge Cup this year, which means a new direction will have to be taken to send a Nunavut team to the Maritime-Hockey North Junior ‘C’ Championship.
“I’m a little frustrated over the fact there’s no funding from Hockey Nunavut for the junior ‘C’ program this year after we built it up to be such a worthwhile program.
“We are getting $7,500 in funding from our branch, Hockey North, to help with travelling to New Brunswick.
“So, to the best of my knowledge, there was no funding given to the Polar Bear Plate, and I know for a fact there was none given to the junior ‘C’ program by Hockey Nunavut.
“So, it’s a good time for me to walk away now.”
Clark said what may happen, moving forward, is that the Polar Bear Plate will become the evaluation camp for the team that travels to the Maritimes.
He said he and Baffin coach Todd Gardner made a gentlemen’s agreement that Kivalliq would go this year and Baffin would go the following year
“There’s no restriction on the number of players you can pick from any region, so if I wanted to go to Woodstock with 20 kids just from the Kivalliq, that would be our choice.
“Next year will be the Baffin’s turn to represent the branch in the Maritimes and it will be their choice on how they go about it and what players they select for the team.
“I don’t see the Challenge Cup coming back into play unless Hockey Nunavut agrees to finance it or, at least, a portion of it.”
Clark said it’s a little ironic that the only reason the Kivalliq is going to the junior ‘C’ championship this year is because they lost the past couple of Challenge Cups against the Baffin.
He said that left the team with money in the bank to help towards making the trip to the Maritimes this year.
“Baffin has gone the past two years, so they’re, pretty much, flat broke right now, so for them to raise $50,000 or more over the next month would be a bit of a stretch.
“So doing it this way would mean a two-year rotation for each team to go, which would provide a little longer time for fundraising too.
“It’s not ideal – you’d much rather go as the winning team – but if you have to spend $25,000 to fly to Iqaluit, or for them to come to Rankin, for a three-game tournament (Challenge Cup), and then raise another $60,000 or so to go to the Maritimes, that’s a tough order here now with all the other groups fundraising, as well.
“I just don’t have the energy for that anymore, so it’s a good time for me to leave it behind.”