If you’re looking for Waylon Arnaqjuaq during the winter, there’s a decent chance you’ll find him at the arena, but you may not instantly recognize him.
He’ll be wearing a Bauer goaltender’s mask – one of the pieces of equipment he relies on to protect him from the blazing hard rubber disks being fired his way.
Arnaqjuaq, 21, has been stopping pucks since he was 13 years old. He started out as a skater at age five, but one day he decided to take a turn between the pipes.
“At school we used to play floor hockey a lot. There wasn’t any goalie, so I thought I’d give it a try,” he recalled. “I loved it right away.”
By age 14, he was on the ice with men and he became a regular among the senior players at 18. Getting in front of slapshots off the sticks of adult athletes was a welcome challenge, said Arnaqjuaq.
“It was a lot faster and harder. I preferred that because I was getting good very young,” he said. “I prefer the slapshots, actually, because you can see the puck all the way, unlike backhands and wrist shots, they’re a little harder to read.”
Despite the blocker, goalie pads, and chest and arm protectors, Arnaqjuaq often skates off the ice with an assortment of bumps and bruises.
“Almost every game,” he said, chuckling.
His father initially sparked his interest in hockey. He later learned the ins and outs of being a netminder from Dion and Dino Akearok.
Playing two to three games per week, Arnaqjuaq estimates that he suits up for 80 to 84 games during an average season. There are also occasional tournaments that take him and his teammates to other communities, like the Toonik Tyme showdown in Iqaluit, where Arnaqjuaq was named the best goaltender in the ‘B’ division last year.
An Oilers fan, Arnaqjuaq cheers for Cam Talbot, but his all-time favourite goalie is Dwayne Roloson, who did a stint in Edmonton and helped the Oilers reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2006.
“My idol,” Arnaqjuaq said of Roloson.
Outside of hockey, he keeps busy with basketball and baseball during other seasons.
“And once in a while I pick up the guitar and play some Metallica,” he said, adding that Harvester of Sorrow is one of his favourites.