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HomeNewsArctic Winter Games - Friday & Saturday Recap

Arctic Winter Games – Friday & Saturday Recap

The Wood Buffalo Arctic Winter Games have come to an end, with Team NT performing admirably!

Callum MacLean scored the game-winning overtime goal as the Northwest Territories’ U16 male hockey team upset hosts Alberta North to win Arctic Winter Games gold.

MacLean struck after one minute and 41 seconds of three-on-three overtime to win the game 6-5 for the NWT in front of a partisan crowd in Fort McMurray’s Centerfire Place.

Callum MacLean celebrates his goal
(Photo provided by Team NT)

That victory followed gold for the NWT’s juvenile female futsal team, who defeated Yukon 5-0, and for Brooke Smith in curling’s mixed event. Reese Wainman took bronze in that event, while the territory’s U18 male cross-country ski relay team also finished third.

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The NWT’s female volleyball team defeated Greenland for bronze while the juvenile male futsal team took silver after a 5-3 defeat in the final against Alberta North.

Both basketball teams took bronze, the male team defeating Nunavut 95-71 and the female team beating Alaska 65-38.

At Centerfire Place, MacLean delivered a stunning come-from-behind upset for the NWT’s U16 team, which had trailed 5-3 at one point in the third period.

“Amazing,” said MacLean, who turns 16 later this month.

“Helmets came off, gloves came flying. It’s an unbelievable experience to have the boys surrounding me and cheering.”

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The team had practiced three-on-three in the lead-up to the Arctic Winter Games, MacLean said, paying tribute to the way players from across the North and those who study in the south had come together and worked as a team for the past week.

Even so, nothing else this week was quite like the atmosphere inside the arena on Saturday.

“It was loud. You can’t hear much going on so you’ve just got to go, and know the chemistry with your guys,” MacLean said.

Asked to rank that experience, he answered: “That’s got to go first.”

Speed skater Sage Acorn, who contributed four individual gold ulus to Team NT’s tally during Friday’s action, won the honour of carrying the NWT flag at the closing ceremony.

Friday was likely the most eventful day of the week for the AWG!

Acorn completed his set with a comfortable victory in Friday’s junior male 1,500m race, Three of the NWT’s short track relay teams also won gold, as did Morgan Nelson in the juvenile female 1,500m.

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“I’m very surprised, I wasn’t expecting this at all,” Acorn said of carrying the NWT flag as the games draw to a close. “I’m happy I’ve got this opportunity. I feel lucky.”

His 1,500m victory, for once, did not come at the expense of an Arctic Winter Games record set by the NWT’s Michael Gilday.

Acorn broke two of Gilday’s records earlier in the week but could not lower the 1,500m mark. Gilday went on to reach the Sochi 2014 Olympics after competing at several Arctic Winter Games, and the two have been exchanging texts this week.

“The first thing I sent him was just, ‘Sorry,'” said Acorn.

“Going into this competition I was not thinking of breaking any records. But after breaking the first record in the 500m, I became more motivated to do it. I actively went after breaking his record in the 777m.”

The gold ulus have come at a cost. Acorn described struggling even to walk in the immediate aftermath of each race, such is the effort required to win. But he said he’ll have enough left to hoist the flag aloft on Saturday night.

Elsewhere on Friday, the NWT’s female hockey team narrowly lost the gold-ulu game 2-1 to Alberta North. The U19 male team defeated Alberta North 5-4 in overtime for bronze.

In futsal, the NWT’s junior male team lost its semi-final 2-1 to Alberta North and was trailing Yukon in the bronze play-off.

Nunavut defeated Team NT’s male volleyball players for bronze, while the female team lost its semi-final against Alaska. Both basketball teams lost closely contested semi-finals against Yukon.

Snowshoers Alex Fast and Kierra McDonald each picked up gold for Team NT, Fast doing so over 10 km – his second title of the week – and McDonald over 7.5 km. In snowboarding, Grayson Marchiori and Mina Lockhart each won snowboard cross gold.

Chris Stipdonk, whose knuckle hop performance earned him national attention this week, took another Arctic Sports gold ulu in sledge jump – helped by the absence of competitors from Yamal this year, who traditionally dominate the discipline. Stipdonk added silver in the airplane event later on Friday afternoon.

In archery, 12-year-old Em Gilmour suffered a bout of food poisoning that saw her leave the field of play multiple times as Friday progressed. Despite that setback – which at one point involved Gilmour vomiting in a garbage can as her shot clock ticked down – she fought her way into her barebow final and only narrowly lost to Alberta North’s Mattea Visser.

“I’m feeling really good, besides today. It’s been really fun,” Gilmour said, having also won gold earlier in the week.

“But I could go to bed at any moment. I’m going to have a big nap, hope for the best, and tomorrow I should be better.”

Another Visser, Jorgie, deprived Hay River’s Julianne Groenegen of compound gold in an extremely close contest. Tied heading into the final end, Visser prevailed 135-133.

Veronica McDonald wrapped up her latest Arctic Winter Games foray with sledge jump bronze, her seventh ulu of the week and – as far as anyone can tell – at least the 35th of her career.

McDonald, who only failed to win an ulu in one event, said she’s had a relaxed week and her focus has instead fallen on younger team-mates she has coaching.

“Usually, I’m a bit more tense and nervous coming into competition. This year, trying to take the focus off me kind-of alleviated the pressure,” she said after receiving an Arctic Winter Games fair play pin to add to her ulus.

“It’s different when you’re a coach and you’re passing on your knowledge to younger athletes.”

Even so, there’s no sign of McDonald easing off in competition.

“I’m going to continue to do this as much as possible,” she said.

Team NT ended up coming in fourth in the medal standings, with 106 total ulus. Alberta North ended with 144, Alaska with 145, and Team Yukon took the top spot with 169 ulus.

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