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Icemen melt in final
Yellowknife ousts Iqaluit in three to claim Northern Hockey Challenge title

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Yellowknife First Air Flyers were simply too much for the Iqaluit Icemen in the Northern Hockey Challenge (NHC) championship series this past month in Yellowknife.

NNSL photo/graphic

Neco Towtongie of the Yellowknife First Air Flyers tries to set up a screen in front of Iqaluit Icemen's Wayne Kusugak and goalie Aaron Ejetsiak during Northern Hockey Challenge action in Yellowknife this past month. - James McCarthy/NNSL photo

The Flyers swept the Icemen three games to zero by scores of 7-2, 3-2 and 7-3 to claim the first NHC title for the Western Division.

Yellowknife got past Hay River in a riveting Western Division final, while Iqaluit took out Rankin Inlet to claim the Eastern crown and set up the final series.

Although Rankin was eliminated in the divisional final, it still had a presence in the final with Wayne Kusugak of Rankin manning the blue line for the Icemen and Neco Towtongie of Rankin suiting up Yellowknife.

Joeffrey Okalik of Whale Cove also played for the Icemen.

Iqaluit lost its chance to send the final back to the East in Game 2, easily the Baffin squad's best performance of the series.

The Icemen led 2-1 in the third period when Flyers goalie Ivan Gloeden stopped two breakaways and made a remarkable save on a rebound try to keep Yellowknife within a goal.

Flyers captain Brad Mueller notched the equalizer at 11:24, before Matt Greyeyes broke Iqaluit's heart with a floating wrister that eluded goalie Aaron Ejetsiak with only 33 seconds on the clock.

Kusugak said he enjoyed playing in the NHC and hopes it returns.

He said playing in the NHC was a whole new experience.

"Even though we play each other in the Avataq and at Toonik Tyme, it was a different feeling in the NHC," said Kusugak.

"We even backed off in our Iqaluit league because we didn't want to hurt each other.

"If I had the puck at the point, and one of my teammates from the Icemen was in front of me playing on the other team, I didn't shoot the puck hard.

"Our league got a little boring because we were all concentrating on the NHC."

Kusugak said he was shocked to be put out of the NHC final in straight games.

He said the Icemen were confident going into the series, but just couldn't gel when it mattered.

"Some of our guys had never played on an Olympic-sized rink.

"There's a big difference between the size of the ice in Iqaluit and Yellowknife.

"We seemed a bit overwhelmed at times, and, when we starting changing our lineup and trying to match lines with Yellowknife, that just seemed to hurt us more.

"We were trying to play their game instead of what got us there, and that was playing Iqaluit hockey."

Kusugak said the game-two loss was frustrating.

He said the Icemen threw everything at the Flyers that game and still came away empty.

"I gave it everything because I wanted to get the series back to Iqaluit.

"We were really prepared for that game, but a couple of little mistakes and they took it from us.

"I wish we could have beaten them once in Yellowknife, so we could have taken them to our home rink and showed them how we play hockey on our smaller ice.

"It just wasn't meant to be, I guess."

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