Five Kivalliq cousins are heading south to play for the same Manitoba-based AAA hockey team this season.
Justin Issakiark, Kadin Eetuk, Prime Paniyuk, Kobe Tanuyak, and Koby Connelly all made the Norman AAA Northstars after going down to try out for the team at the end of August.
Kivalliq Canucks goaltender Connor Faulkner, who joined them for support during the tryout, said they have made their home communities proud.
“They all went 110 per cent this weekend and gave it everything they had to crack the squad,” Faulkner wrote in a Facebook post.
All the players hail from Rankin Inlet, with the exception of Prime Paniyuk, who is from Coral Harbour. Sandy Tattuinee also attended the tryouts but broke his ankle while playing.
Two of the players – Eetuk and Paniyuk are 15 years old and heading into Grade 10, while Connelly, Issakiark and Tanuyak are all 17 and going into their final year of high school.
Although they are going to be playing competitive hockey, school will be an important focus for them.
“I think being the youngest one will give me the greatest opportunity to fulfill my long-term goals with hockey and school,” said Eetuk.
All five boys have at least some experience playing outside Nunavut with the Junior Kivalliq Canucks while Connelly and Isskiark have both played for teams down south – Connelly with a season in Wilcox, Sask. and another Manitoba and Isskiark in Pilot Mound, Man. Both players had their seasons cut short last year due to Covid-19.
“It was boring. I wanted to stay down there and play hockey,” said Issakiark.
Connelly said his first year playing outside Rankin was tough because he was the only player from Nunavut on his team. He ended up going home before the end of the season because he was homesick – a decision he regrets in hindsight.
“It was the last two months of school so I should have pushed through,” he said.
The potential for homesickness is something that is weighing on the younger players minds. Fortunately the Kivalliq cousins will also be staying with local families who live within a few blocks of each other. The fact that the younger players have older family members to look up to will make the transition that much easier.
“I think it would be harder without them,” said Eetuk. “It’s just better to be with friends and family.”
As the oldest of the group, Connelly said he is looking forward to the opportunity to be there for his cousins on their journey.
“I’m used to trying to help people so I think I can be there for them if they need help,” he said.
All five boys are hoping to continue their hockey careers, either in Junior or by taking the college route.
They credited David Clark, who runs Rankin Inlet’s minor hockey program, with instilling them with the work ethic required to achieve their goals.
“David coached us since we were atoms. He’s helped us a bit and it’s made a big difference,’ said Tanuyak.
While the Northstars’ coach hasn’t set the roster in stone yet, the boys agree that the potential to have an all-cousin line would be pretty special.
“It’s going to a be a great time with these four boys,” Issakiark said.