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Arctic Winter Games: A Running Diary

Arctic Winter Games: A Running Diary

Let Up Here be your eyes and ears at the South Slave games.
By Herb Mathisen
Mar 19

The Arctic Winter Games are big. For the next week, nearly 2,000 athletes from eight different circumpolar countries are competing in 19 events at venues spread out across the NWT's South Slave region. At any given time, four or five events will be happening, along with cultural performances by artists from Scandinavia to Greenland to Alaska, and bustling craft marketplaces and exhibitions. Like I said, these Games are big... and way too big for one person to even attempt to capture comprehensively. Instead of trying to cover it all, I'll leave my impressions, observations and conversations with the people I meet in a running diary on this blog to try to give you at least a small taste of what it's like at the Games.

(Note: Please be patient with me, I'm a luddite trying to figure out how to post photos from my ancient phone, so updates might be sporadic.)


Sunday, March 18

3:45 p.m.: We've arrived in Hay River, after the five-hour drive from Yellowknife. Lots of homemade signs along the highway into town welcoming athletes. It's feeling a bit toasty for this jacket. For a second, I'm worried this heat might be the result of the monumental effort my body is putting into digesting the gigantic bison burger I put down at the Big River Service Centre in Fort Providence. But no, the thermometre reads +3 C. Are we sure these are the Arctic Winter Games?

4:45 p.m.: The buses are starting to arrive from Fort Smith for the opening ceremonies and the parade through town.

5:10 p.m.: There's a giant line outside Hay River's brand spanking new arena to get into the sold-out ceremonies. I haven't gotten a straight answer on what we're calling the new barn: the Don Stewart Recreation Centre? The Northwestel Arctic Winter Games arena?

5:29 p.m.: A man does an admirable job as a door jamb at the arena entrance. "You're almost done," I say, as one of the last people to enter the building.
"This is the longest line there's ever been in Hay River."

5:36 p.m.: Despite worries the rink wouldn't be completed in time, it certainly looks ready for the event. It's impressive, with a skyway over both ends of the rink, there shouldn't be an obstructed view in the house. The place definitely has 'new arena smell.' It's that much more pronounced too because the old rink had such a distinct smell--kind of like your grandparents' basement.

6:01 p.m.: A spirited performance by the Filipino Marching Band of Hay River to open up the ceremony. They must have as much stamina spinning flags, dancing, whilsting and drumming as many of the endurance athletes.

AWG 2018/Brian Collins

Please don't slip!

6:04 p.m.: I'm getting a little nervous one of the flag-spinners is going to fall and crack their head as the carpet laid over the ice bunches up and then slips from all the footwork.

6:16 p.m.: The athletes are in the building, starting with Team Yukon, Alaska, Greenland, Nunavik, Nunavut, NWT, Sapmi (Norway, Sweden, Finland), Yamal (Russia) and the Northwest Territories. (My quick take on this year's uniforms: Nunavik's black-and-neon-green stand out as my favourites, followed by the Yukon's black-red-and-white and Alaska's understated blue-and-grey. And obviously Sapmi, which has opted for traditional uniforms.)

Who wore it best? You be the judge:

AWG 2018/Brian Collins

Nunavik's black and green with Alaska's blue and greys in the background.

AWG 2018/Brian Collins

Team Yukon's Roots-inspired uniforms.

AWG 2018/Brian Collins

Sapmi goes with a traditional look.

6:44 p.m.: We now have more than 1,900 athletes crowding the floor.

AWG 2018/Brian Collins

The Northwest Territories enters last to the biggest pop from the home crowd.

6:45 p.m.: There's a pretty substantial pool of media in Hay River. Lots of CBC jackets in here. I think they might have the fifth largest delegation at the games.

6:53 p.m.: The Russian national anthem is being played in the arena. It was preceded by Greenland's and followed shortly after by the Sapmi, then American, then Canadian national anthems. I'm guessing that's the first time that's happened here.

7:01 p.m.: The Arctic Winter Games are more than just an athletic competition. They're a showcase of Northern and pan-Arctic culture. The K'atl'odeeche Drummers, the young Metis jiggers from Fort Smith and then the Tuktoyaktuk Siglit Drummers and Dancers perform for the gathered athletes and spectators.

7:20 p.m.: The torch enters the building and it's lit. Let the Games begin!

8:03 p.m.: I feel for the Fort Smith athletes. After taking a three-hour ride to get here, they're back on the buses for the return trip.

9:01 p.m.: In the media room, there's a whole bunch of languages being spoken: French, Russian and Swedish, among the phone conversations between the Ulu News team coordinating their daily AWG newspaper.

9:45 p.m.: It's off to the Doghouse pub for a quick bite. (I need to remember to eat.) Our waitress confesses her FOMO for not having picked up a ticket ($50, plus tax) for the opening ceremony. 

10:05 p.m.: Heading back to headquarters for the night and noticing the many lit-up RVs in parking lots or side-streets. This is one way people are beating the well-publicized accommodations crunch here in Hay River, when the limited number of hotel rooms were sold out long ago. (Thanks to Slade's Fire Protection for the room and board this week!)


Monday, March 19

11:48 a.m.: Meet Martin Joy, a coach who doubles as equipment manager for Nunavut's boys hockey team. How'd they do this morning? "We lost, but we learned."

12:08 p.m.: That sound I hear is either the wailing of the train or else somebody scored a pretty big goal at the arena.

Drew and Jaymo Morris, with Estella.

1:16 p.m.: Some Arctic Winter Games athletes took a different route to Hay River. Unlike competitors in most other sports who hopped on a charter flight to the Games, Drew Morris and his dog-mushing son Jaymo, 12, drove all the way from Fairbanks, Alaska. Because you can't really fly with a dog team. That made for three, 12-hour days. And when you have a truck full of dogs, you can't just run behind a bush to answer nature's call. Every four hours, they'd look for a spot where they could let the dogs loose to run around, stretch their legs and do their business. All told, Drew believes this trip might cost them upwards of $10,000. But there's absolutely no complaints. They're happy to be in the NWT for the first time. And Jaymo's already got something to take home as a souvenir--a bronze from the juvenile 7.5-km race.

1:31 p.m.: Taylor Beck from Yellowknife, who won the gold ulu in the 10-km dog-mushing race, tells me a bit about what it's like to be a Beck--the NWT's preeminent mushing family. "I was on a sled when I was one," she says. "As long as I was able to stand, I was on a sled." (On Monday, Beck beat our her cousin Trey, who won silver. Another cousin of hers, Kale, 12, won silver in the juveline category. And her sister Taryn just missed out on qualifying for the Arctic Winter Games by six seconds.)

1:46 p.m.: Thomas Ferguson comes down to check out the dog-mushing races on his 1962 Olympique Bombardier. It used to belong to his grandfather and he's repainted it "exactly like it should be." How many miles does it have on it? I don't know, says Thomas. "There's no gauges. Nothing."

1:55 p.m.: I walk over to the three port-o-johns set up side-by-side on the Hay River. All three are free. These are likely to be the only full vacancies you'll find in the South Slave this week.

2:03 p.m.: In what might already be my endearing memory of the Games, Alaskan Johanna Baladich stands atop the podium with one of her dogs after winning the juvenile 7.5-km dog-mushing race. The ceremony takes place on the Hay River and after Baladich is presented with her ulu, MC Andrew Cassidy holds his cellphone aloft, playing an instrumental version of the American national anthem that's tinny and barely audible outdoors on the milddle of the river. Although this doesn't seem out of place for the Arctic Winter Games--it's part of the charm, really--I can undrestand how it might feel a little underwhelming for the winner. After a few verses, Baladich begins to sing along to the anthem. She has a beautiful voice and we all just watch her there, singing proudly, under the big blue sky.

2:17 p.m.: The dog-mushing is over for the day, so it's off to the Dene Games venue. I'm carless for the week and Toni Fehr, a self-confessed part-time Hay Riverite, takes pity on me and drives me across the river to the Chief Lamalice Complex in K'atl'odeeche First Nation. "See, it was more than a five-minute walk," she says. Thanks Toni!

I've got to say that Team Greenland's Dene Games uniforms are the coolest I've seen so far.

3:21 p.m.: When I meet Frank Elanik from Aklavik, he's trying to wipe Crisco off his hands and find a draft of air in the crowded room to cool down. Elanik has won both of his match-ups so far. In the Stick Pull, one of the many Dene Games events, two competitors stand beside each other and try to pull a greased-up stick from the other's hand. The strength required to do this is incredible, as evidenced by the pained facial expressions on some of the competitors. You can't roll your shoulder or lean your arm out--it's straight back and forth only. These are Elanik's first Games. He would have come before, but he had to work. Elanik tells me the Stick Pull is an event derived from fishing. You want to grab the fish and "you don't let go," he says.

4:01 p.m.: The three most popular pieces of advice you'll hear yelled out at the Stick Pull. "Hold it!" "Pull it!" "Breathe!" (You would understand if you saw how hard the competitors are working.)

4:37 p.m.: The double-elimination tournament on the men's side comes down to Nicolas York of Nunavik and undefeated Doronn Fox from the Yukon. The anticipation has been building all day, but as both competitors shake hands and then stand beside each other, the room falls into a hush. York will have to beat Fox in this match and then another in order to win the gold ulu, since he's already lost once today in the double-knockout format. The two men trade victories in the best-of-three series and then it's down to a decisive pull. York and Fox wince and grimace. Their faces are twisted with the strain. It's by far the longest duel of today's tournament. Finally, York pulls the stick from Fox's hand and the large Nunavik cheering section erupts. We're going to have another match.

4:42 p.m.: After an afternoon of competition, Tina Mifsud from Nunavik beats Reanna Whiteknife from Alaska in the Stick Pull juvenile final.

4:47 p.m.: Prior to the Men's Open Stick Pull final, organizers announce a treat for the crowd. Reanna Whiteknife, the silver ulu winner in the juvenile Stick Pull, takes centrestage with another Alaskan teammate to demonstrate the Alaskan Stick Pull. "Watch this! Watch this!" yell out a group of Team NWT competitors. The two girls whip their arms around. It's essentially an anything-goes affair. A Stick Pull judge from today's competition thanks them for the demonstration. "I think I spotted about ten violations there," he says.

Nicolas York celebrates with his Nunavik teammates, while Doronn Fox from the Yukon is hugged by a competitor from Alaska.

4:52 p.m.: Nicolas York completes the comeback in a thrilling final against Doronn Fox from the Yukon

5:08 p.m.: I ask Nicolas York how his hands feel after an afternoon of Stick Pull. "They feel great," he assures me. I shake his hand to congratulate and I don't even realize it until I've said it, but I say 'wow' as I watch his massive mitt close on mine. "Watch out!" one of his friends cautions me and then laughs. I ask whether York will be sticking his hands in the snow to ease any pain, but he says in a couple hours he'd be ready for more competition.

5:31 p.m.: Yellowknife photographer Pat Kane, who is taking some really great shots for Macleans this week, drives me back across the river into town. Two snowmobiles approach the ice road and realize they're being driven by RCMP officers.

6:01 p.m.: A quick bite at the Back Eddy. I have to order a steak since it's seasoned with Back Eddy, right? When in Hay River... I hear it's like Guinness and Ireland--the closer you get to Hay River, the better the Back Eddy tastes.

8:33 p.m.: Following a trip to the Media Centre to update this diary (the Orange Juice count is at 5), it's back to the arena, where the sound of drums reverberates through the facility. Up the stairs, an impromptu handgame has taken over a foyer. Yukoners and NWTers drum for Alaskan and Nunavik and Greenland athletes, some of whom are learning how to play. I eventually continue on into the rink and you can still hear the drums beating. It's the NWT's two official sports seamlessly coming together.

9: 13 p.m.: Parents Facebook-Live some tense moments in a back-and-forth volleyball match between Nunavut and NWT. Crowds for both sides are raucous. "ATII! ATII! ATII!"

10:08 p.m.: It's time to call it a day, I think. We're getting up early to drive to Fort Smith tomorrow. Atii!!!


Tuesday, March 20

6:50 a.m.: Coffee, donut and we're off to Fort Smith, 270 km away.

8:22 a.m.: We're out of cell range and radio range. But we're in lynx range. See it?

10:19 a.m.: In Fort Smith, just in time for the boys NWT-Yukon basketball game. (I'm going to break with journalistic objectivity just once here, as an NWT b-ball alum from the bronze-ulu squad way back in 2000.) I'm heartened to hear we... ahem, they beat Alaska already--something we were never able to do.

10:51 a.m.: If I had better peripheral vision, I could probably watch basketball and curling at the same time, since the gymnasium and the curling rink are only separated by a narrow foyer here in the Fort Smith rec centre. Game update: NWT 43 - Yukon 33 at halftime.

11:15 a.m.: This is some high-pace ball. We're at the end of three quarters and it's NWT 75 - Yukon 48. We might see 100 points!

11:38 a.m.: Final score: NWT 94 - Yukon 70. Team NWT does something else we couldn't do: beat the Yukon. Man, was that game ever frenetic. 164 points in four ten-minute quarters--that's more than four points a minute. Alright, back to objectivity.

11:48 a.m.: Down the hall, I'm able to catch the third and final jumps in the junior male Triple Jump. Chalk this up as another of the growing number of events that I wouldn't dare even attempt because I'd hurt myself. This Arctic Sport is similar to the track and field event, except you must land and take all three jumps with both feet beside each other.

11:50 a.m.: #photographyfail. (I could probably start a whole other blog with my lowlights.)

This blur is Kaiden Jimenez from Alaska. He had the longest jump I saw today.

11:55 a.m.: From Jimenez's athlete profile: "In my 8th grade year [I] was offered a free bag of popcorn during a basketball game if I joined the [Native Youth Olympic] team. First year of competing I was a regional champ for one foot and a fourth place finailst in state. Ever since each year I would compete in state for new events and my signature one foot high kick." That's one life-changing bag of popcorn.

12:01 p.m.: Mick Josefsen from Greenland limbers up in the corner of the gym in preparation for his third jump. Josefsen won the Arm Pull last night. "He could barely move this morning, but he's still competing," says today's MC. I must have missed quite the battle last night: while Josefsen stood in line at the canteen earlier, two local men approached him and shook his hand. "Boy, you must be sore today," they said, before congratulating him.

12:09 p.m.: The games of the Arctic Winter Games. 

12:34 p.m.: Stopping for a quick lunch at Berro's Pizzeria. I burn the roof of my mouth on the first bite. It's a lesson I'll never learn.

2:42 p.m.: The Two-Foot High-Kick is about to get underway. The world record in this event is 8 feet, 8 inches. Think about that for a minute. If I held an object up over my head as high as I could, the world record holder would have been able to kick it out of my hands. This is going to be exciting.

3:07 p.m.: A short call from a noisy corner of the Fort Smith rec centre to Whitehorse to discuss and assign a feature for our June issue. (Hoping my publisher sees this.)

3:48 p.m.: Jordan Balsillie, from the NWT basketball team, feels sorry for me and my pin-less lanyard and gives me a set from his collection.

4:22 p.m.: Out comes the ladder. The seal-skin ball is up to 7 feet, 2 inches on the junior male side. 

4:30 p.m.: Sportsmanship on display out here. After an athlete misses a kick, his or her opponents will shout out encouragement and advice. On the male side, where it's down to just four athletes, even those still in contention for an ulu will jump off the floor and run over to tell the jumper what they say, how close they were, what to remember for the next jump. There's hugs when they hit it and handshakes when they miss.

That's an object dangling 7 feet, 2 inches in the air getting hit by the two feet of the Yukon's Lou Sampson, right there.

5:06 p.m.: Kaiden Jimenez hits the 7 feet, 6 inches height on his first try. He's added to his gold-ulu from earlier today. Now he takes a shot at 7 feet, 8 inches, which is just two inches short of the world record. He makes three valiant tries, but is not able to reach it. (This is like kicking a cap off of Shaquille O'Neal's head at this point.)

5:15 p.m.: We're all watching Bianca Berko-Malvasio from the Yukon, who is trying to tie a world record at 6 feet, 2 inches after wrapping up the gold. "Welcome to the Bianca show," says MC Gerry Kissoun. Bianca just misses on her first. Just misses on her second. And she's... oh so close on the third. She'll have to settle for her second gold-ulu of the day. (She won the Triple Jump earlier.)

7:09 p.m.: I'm back at the school gym just in time to see hometown hero Veronica Leigh McDonald go for the gold ulu in the two-foot high-kick. Her coach, and mom, and Arctic Winter Games International Committee member and Arctic Sports Legend (with a capital-L) Meika McDonald stands back, arms folded, watching Veronica's form and approach intensely. It's down to Veronica and Alaskan Madi Ko, who have both hit the 1.88-metre height. It doesn't feel like anyone in the crowded gym is breathing. Neither are people like myself, watching through a window in a lobby wherever we can find a spot not covered in the shoes and boots discarded by those in the gym. Veronica stands feet away from the target and the room falls silent. She approaches the sealskin ball and... just misses. Two women from Fort Smith standing in front of me gasp, barely able to watch. "I don't even know her," one of the ladies says, and they both laugh. Meika calmly walks over to Veronica to provide a few pieces of advice, before returning to her vantage point. Veronica takes a few deep breathes and stretches. She approaches the target once more and... again, just misses. This time, some teammates join Meika in providing notes and encouragement to Veronica. The crowd, huddled in the bleachers and against the wall, shout their support. Veronica takes her place again. The woman in front of me has her arm draped over her friend's shoulder. "Come on, come on, come on," they plead nervously. Veronica steps up and... she's so close, but she just misses. The air comes out of the room as supporters finally and truly exhale. They applaud loudly to let Veronica, who is being hugged by competitors and friends and family, know they've appreciated her efforts. Now, the lobby is suddenly a hub of traffic. People are grabbing their shoes and heading out. This was the big ticket.

7:16 p.m.: I leave with the flow of traffic and walk past the gym in the rec centre. I snap a pic of the Team NWT's girls basketball team to send my sister--a waaaaay more accomplished basketball player than her brother.

7:23 p.m.: Each night in Fort Smith, the Roaring Rapids Hall--a log-built, roundhouse--hosts a slate of intimate cultural performances from the assembled circumpolar nations participating in the Arctic Winter Games. I walk into the room and my eyes adjust to the dimly lit room. At the front of the room, four Yamal women dressed in ornate traditional clothing are singing. To explain the next song, we're told that the Indigenous people of Yamal are reindeer herders, which elicits an enthusiastic "WOOOWOOOWOOOWOOO!!!!" from an audience member. Reindeer, which number 700,000 in the Russian territory, are a source of food and transportation and an important part of the economy in Yamal. This song is for the reindeer herders.

7:34 p.m.: Up next are a young and bubbly group of dancers and singers from Greenland, who perform traditional songs and showcase local dances. They also play a song that they tell us they only wrote this week, inspired by their week in Fort Smith.

7:41 p.m.: The Inuksuk Drum Dancers, a group of young women who attend Iqaluit's Inuksuk high school, take us through a range of songs, from Alika Komangapik's family songs to modern songs writen by young Inuit artists like Celina Kalluk. One of the members throatsings in public for the first time. The group finishes with a Charlie Adams song that gets the crowd clapping to the beat.

8:09 p.m.: The night ends with a dance performance from Yukon high-schoolers, which they choreographed themselves to a song created by a Yukoner and poetry they wrote themselves.

8:16 p.m.: "YUKON!" one of the Inuksuk drum dancers yells out, waving the dancers over for a group picture. "GREENLAND! WHERE'S GREENLAND!?!" The Greenlanders run over and jump in front of the cameras to steal the shot.

8:36 p.m.: Time to eat, so it's off to the Pelican Inn, where it appears Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs and Tamara Pimentel (the tireless VJs from APTN running hither and tither in the South Slave, we've crashed a reception. We sheepishly decide whether to walk in when Meika McDonald waves us in. (Morritt-Jacobs and Pimentel interviewed after Veronica's jump.) She tells us to help ourselves to the giant spread of food and when we tell her we're not sure if we're going to stay the night or not, she offers Charlotte and Tamara a bed and a couch. (I've already secured a warm piece of floor somewhere else, should we decide to stay.)

8:45 p.m.: I text Pat Kane to tell him to come meet us. He writes back: "Just finishing up high kick. It's crazy! 8 foot 6 now." A tidal wave of FOMO hits me. Actually, Fear Of Missing Out doesn't quite capture it. I come with a new term: DIMO. Damn, I'm Missing Out.

8:55 p.m.: Meika sits down with us and she tells me about the day and how she couldn't imagine what it would have been like for Veronica, her daughter, to compete in front of her hometown crowd. And then we talk about her own career. (She has held various Arctic Games world records over the years.) She says she trained specifically for the sports and would practice the various jumps at the gym three days a weeks. In the lead-up to some competitions, she'd be training so hard that she'd have to crawl up the stairs at home she was so sore.

9:23 p.m.: Pat shows up and says no world record was broken. He plays a slow-motion video of the gold-ulu winning kick, by Andrew Christopher Kashevarof of Alaska (a guy much shorter than I am at 5'11) and I wonder how it's humanly possible. Go grab some measuring tape right now and let off 259 centimetres and imagine trying to kick that high--leaving the ground with both feet, touching a target with both feet and landing back down on both feet. Yeah. Exactly.

9:55 p.m.: I order some mozza sticks. I've seen more mozza sticks in the last three days than I've seen the last three years.

10:12 p.m.: Despite all the kind offers, we decide we're going to drive the 270-kilometres back to Fort Smith tonight.

Pre-packaged, pre-cooked, single-serve corn on the cob? What a time to be alive.

11:11 p.m.: I had no idea this was a thing.


Wednesday, March 21

12:30 a.m.-ish: The Northern Lights are dancing off on the horizon. We pull over on the highway, about an hour or so north of Fort Smith and... the stars. I've never seen so many in my life. The town is right to promote itself as a Dark Sky Preserve. Oh, and it's starting to get cold again.

1:55 a.m.: We get into Hay River.

2:10 a.m.: My head hits the pillow and...zzz

9:41 a.m.: I am awake and almost sentient. (I'm also reluctant to note the time of this entry because no other media member has this luxury and I feel I will be ostracized from this community as a result.)

10:48 a.m.: It finally feels like winter in Hay River. The -20C stings the face after days hovering around 0 C.

12:14 p.m.: I write the update to this diary and my computer crashes and I lose everything.

1:52 p.m.: Let's try that again. Thankfully, there's a generous store of chocolate chip cookies here in the Hay River media centre. "Are they homemade?" I ask. Yeah, says Marie-Eve, one of the half-dozen permanent fixtures this week in the centre. A volunteer in Fort Providence made 400 of them for this week."Was it Lois Philipp?" "Yeah, how'd you know?" Just a hunch. (There are people like Lois, who seem to play a hand in everything, in communities across the North.)

2:47 p.m.: I wonder what mayhem prompted this sign on the front door of Hay River's rec centre? Reminds me of this sign on the men's room door at Berro's Pizzeria in Fort Smith yesterday:

2:59 p.m.: I've been at the bantam boys hockey game between NWT and Northern Alberta for two whole minutes and I've already heard a parent mutter a four-letter word that rhymes with hit. She immediately turned to me, giggling. "Sorry."

3:06 p.m.: I've been at the bantam boys hockey game between NWT and Northern Alberta for nine whole minutes and I've already heard Cotton Eyed Joe.

3:11 p.m.: Team Nunavut's bantam boys are doing a lap of the running track above the rink before their upcoming game.

3:58 p.m.: Catching up on the Northern Alberta - Nunavut girls volleyball through the windows upstairs. One problem: the score is only displayed on a table directly below us. I bump into Tony Buggins from CKLB radio in Yellowknife and we both press the sides of our faces against the glass and look out the corners of our eyes at that table. "19," I say. "I see a 19." Tony really commits to the face-push and a few seconds later he says, "9." The score is Alberta 19 - Nunavut 9. We both have red marks on the right sides of our faces. I'm glad there's no photographic evidence of the last two minutes.

4:32 p.m.: Some more commentary on the new arena.
Man at Urinal #3: "Reminds me of a casino bathroom. Clean and bright."
Man at Urinal #1: "Reminds me of a police station."
Man at Urinal #3: "You would know that."

(Man at Urinal #2 creepily memorizing bathroom exchange to record on this blog.)

4:49 p.m.: I'm at the pin trading centre and a kid asks me what I have to trade. I show him my NWT set. He looks me in the eyes like: "That's it? Are you serious, man?" And then he walks away.

4:51 p.m.: Janet Pacey, working at the official pin trading centre in Hay River, tells me the most in-demand pins are Alaska's super-rare dogsled pin set and Greenland's team set. The Greenlanders don't trade their pins very quickly. Pacey's searching for a word. "Stingy? Strategic?" I offer. "Yes, that's a good word for it."

4:42 p.m.: What are Pacey's favourites this year? The very detailed Alaskan team set. (The five person-set right above the girl's right shoulder here.)

A little tip for all you pin collectors out there: Word has it there's a big CBC pin being released tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the pin trading centre. Might want to get there early.

4:58 p.m.: That's Cotton Eyed Joe for the second time now.

6:02 p.m.: Had dinner at a friend's place tonight and found out how Hay River made do without an arena for the last two years. They cleared off a pretty nice outdoor rink, where minor hockey players would have legit practices and adult rec hockey players would have a weekly game. And a lot of people around town built backyard rinks. My friend looked out his window and I followed him--an outdoor rink.

8:31 p.m.: Back at the arena for the tail-end of the Yukon - Alaska midget hockey game. Yukon leads Alaska 2 to 1 with 11 minutes left.

8:36 p.m.: After killing off a penalty, Alaska ties it up.

8:49 p.m.: Alaska pulls off the comeback with a 3-2 victory to complete the round robin portion of the midget tournament. (Interesting quirk of the tournament--in Alaska, it's a 10-minute misconduct penalty for a player without a mouthguard. There were two such penalties called against Alaska in this game. The rule, however, does not apply to Canadian players because it's not mandatory here.)

9:24 p.m.: The final boys midget hockey score is going up on the board and the playoff seeding--and tomorrow's schedule--has been determined. Interested players, coaches, parents and grandparents--including NWT Premier Bob McLeod, here cheering on his grandson--crowd around the bracket.

10:04 p.m.: Just met Anders from Greenland at the pub and we started talking languages and life in the North and all the similiarites and differences between life in Nuuk and Canada's North. And there were so many things they've done--from the transit system to language policy--that seemed like good ideas. Then we got to talking about the Air Greenland flight between Iqaluit and Nuuk and how it's really too bad that hasn't been able to work.To get from Iqaluit to Nuuk now, you have to fly from the Nunavut capital to Ottawa then Toronto then Copenhagen, Denmark then Nuuk. (Or Toronto to Reykjavik, Iceland and then a turbo-prop to Nuuk.) I started blabbing (for the millionth time) about how much of a difference I've noticed in the Yukon-NWT relationship since Air North began its Yellowknife-Whitehorse flight. There are more artists from the Yukon playing Yellowknife shows now and vice versa. And it's also easier for Nunavut artists to get to the Yukon through Yellowknife. I've felt a resurgence of pan-territorial pride. (Although, maybe I'm just always looking for that?) In the North, where the distances are so vast and populations aren't big enough to sustain direct connections, it's so hard to have random, face-to-face conversations like these, where you get ideas from the way things work in other Norths. That's been my feeling throughout these games--watching performers from Tuktoyaktuk cheer on Greenland's drummers and dancers in Fort Smith, seeing Alaskans demonstrate their version of the stick pull at the Dene Games. The North coming together, connections being made, under no political pretenses. It's making me feel a little sentimental. Maybe it's best to end the day with a link to the 1988 AWG theme song: Hands Across the North.


Thursday, March 22

10:01 a.m.: I'm sad to say it's my last day in the South Slave. We're driving back to Yellowknife this afternoon. That means it's time to make my bed, pack up my stuff and do my dishes. (Seven coffee mugs, essentially.)

10:43 a.m.: Grabbing a coffee and donut for breakfast at the Super "A" gas station. That makes it three days in a row now that I've had a donut for breakfast. (And I wonder why I'm feeling so non-athletic down here.)

11:43 a.m.: I received an email from the Games committee asking me to vote on the Stuart Hodgson trophy, awarded to the team that most exhibits fair play and sportsmanship at the Games. And I'm having a really hard time making my choice. When I think back to the past week, what jumps out the most is the Dene Games and Arctic Games and the camaraderie displayed by pretty much every participant. These were intense competitions, for sure, but what you came away with was the desire for everyone there to succeed. You had two-foot high-kickers giving tips to competitors from other countries. You had two people squaring off in a hard-fought stick pull battle and then, when one person lost, their first reaction wasn't to get upset, it was to hug their opponent. You had entire cheering squads from one contingent leading a rhythmic clap as an athlete prepared for a high-kick.. and then jupming up in celebration to mug the kicker after they hit the target. There were two contingents that stood out in this regard: Alaska and Greenland. I had to pick just one--and I went with Alaska, because of their overwhelming support for all athletes during the Two-Foot High-Kick.

12:31 p.m.: Oh no! I'm late for the Nunavut - Yukon semi-final midget hockey game!!!

12:45 p.m.: Turns out I'm really late. I thought it started at noon. Turns out it was 11 a.m. Yukon is up 2 - 1 with 11 minutes left in the third. I order a grilled cheese sandwich.

12:46 p.m.: I immediately regret this decision. I want to get in there and watch!

12:55 p.m.: Nunavut ties it up. We're going to overtime. (I'm still waiting for my sandwich.)

1:02 p.m.: I have my sandwich and run upstairs. Nunavut is peppering the Yukon, putting shot after shot toward the goal, but Yukon is valiantly getting in front of them and their goalie is turning everything aside.

1:10 p.m.: We're going to a shootout. The crowd is amped, with dueling chants of "NUN-A-VUT! NUN-A-VUT! NUN-A-VUT!" and "Let's go Yukon! Let's go Yukon!" It's a shame such a great game has to end in a shootout.

1:13 p.m. Yukon to shoot first. SAVE. Nunavut next. MISSES THE NET. 

1:14 p.m.: Yukon next. POKECHECK. Nunavut. SCORES! The next two from both sides are stops and misses. Now Yukon comes up. He has to score to stay alive.

1:15 p.m.: He pulls off the Forsberg. Tie game. Nunavut with a chance to win.

1:16 p.m.: Ian Attungala of Nunavut scores and the team moves on to the final tomorrow. Wow! What a game! It's too bad someone had to lose today.

Here's footage of Ian Attungala's goal, taken by his mother: https://twitter.com/sasha_hickes/status/976927081677361154

2:00 p.m.: And with that, we're hitting the dusty trail, 470-odd kilometres back to Yellowknife. Thanks for following along with me on here!