They lost Jordin Tootoo after an injury in semifinals play, but Team Tootoo rallied to win the 2023 Terence Tootoo Memorial hockey tournament in Rankin Inlet Sunday, March 19.
Tootoo took a stick to the eye from Russell Matoo of Team Nunavut in a tight game that was decided in overtime, sending Team Tootoo to the finals against Niksik. Tootoo returned to the arena wearing an eye patch.
“Part of hockey,” said a jovial Tootoo before the final game of the tournament. “You get a little banged up and whatnot. I had a bit of a scare the last game, semifinals, got a stick in the eye.”
He said it was a hockey play and happens all the time.
“To the young guy, Russ Matoo, keep your head up high,” said Tootoo. “It’s hockey. I actually forget how it is to get hit in the face since being retired for four or five years now.”
In the finals, underdogs Niksik took an early lead 3-1 off goals from Tyrese Dias, Zack Lille and Mitchel Tilley.
Nathan Gardner and Sateana Goupil pulled the game back to a 3-3 tie for Team Tootoo, with Wendel Kaludjak and Qaritaq Kusugak-Clark finishing the job for a 5-3 win.
“It’s pretty emotional right now,” said Pujjuut Kusugak, captain of Team Tootoo, following the win. “My son’s on the team playing with Jordin and a whole bunch of us that got together to play in this thing. It’s the best feeling ever. I’m so proud of our guys for being able to work hard and come back like that. It’s going to be an important one for a long time.”
He said the team knew they could win the whole game and focused on grinding and getting their chances.
“Sure enough, we got big goals from our top line,” said Kusugak.
Tootoo was glad to see the memorial tournament held for the first time in the new Agnico Eagle Arena.
“Far too often in remote communities, we seem to come together when there’s a death in the family, but this weekend the community support has been second to none,” said Tootoo, adding that his brother Terence, after whom the event is dedicated, was a great hockey player himself. “Every day the arena has been jampacked. Hockey in Rankin has always been counted on for the community to come together, and to have an arena like this where everybody can fit in one sitting, it’s awesome.”
He was impressed with the Team Nunavut squad, who recently earned the territory’s first-ever Arctic Winter Games hockey gold.
“They have a lot of great potential,” said Tootoo. “This tournament, they were right there. They could have beat us. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of these youngsters be successful in the hockey world down south.”
Tootoo said his family appreciates all the support and he looks forward to making the TTM even bigger in the future.
“We want to get bigger and better, and we’re going to do that,” he said.
Over in the B division of the tournament, Team Todd surpassed Eskimo Point in the finals 5-4.