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Despite Fatigue, Team Alaska Basketball, Hockey Squads Advance to Championship

Tim Ellis/KUAC

Today is Day 5 of the Arctic Winter Games, and the tempo and intensity of competition is at its peak. Overall, Team Alaska widened its lead over Team Yamal Thursday. As of this morning, the Alaskans had 124 total medals and 35 gold; compared with Yamal’s 88 total and 32 gold. Team Alberta North also has 32 golds, and 71 total.

More medals-round games are set for today and Saturday, the last day of competition. Team Alaska’s junior girls basketball and hockey teams will be among those going for the gold, along with the junior Alaska boys basketball squad. The teams earned their way into the championships Thursday.

The round-robin format used for many of the sports in the Arctic Winter Games is a grueling but necessary way to winnow out the best individuals and teams in a crowded field. In a round robin, teams play daily, it’s not unusual to play two games in a day.

That can take a toll on athletes – even young and fit high school-age youths.

Team Alaska junior boys basketball coach Charles McCubrey says that accounts for some of the lack of intensity among his players Thursday night – who nonetheless summoned the strength near the end of the game to pull out a 79-76 win over a tough and determined Nunavut squad.

“Y’know, we’re getting a little tired,” McCubrey said. “The boys aren’t accustomed to playing this many games in this many days.”

McCubrey says that’s not to take anything away from Nunavut’s ballplayers. They were tough opponents who almost pulled off an upset.

“Y’know, hats off to Nunavut,” he said. “I mean, they came in the lower seed, and they just played their hearts out tonight. Their coach had a great game plan, those kids executed very well. Very well. I mean, it came down to the last few seconds.”

Indeed, the score was 77-76 with only a few ticks on the clock when Alaska’s Colin Corsetti drove to the hoop. The ball was knocked away, he scrambled for it, hit the floor and took a shot to jaw, accidentally. Here’s how he tells it:

“When I was driving it,” he said, “he kind of tipped it, so I was hustling to get it back, and then I kind of got tripped and (fell) straight into a knee to the face.”

Corsetti then stepped to the free-throw line and sank both shots.

The 79-76 win sends Alaska to the championship game against Team Northwest Territories, at 1 p.m. Saturday at the UAF Patty Center gym.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Team Northwest Territories' Atikin Gwendolyn Hehn falls on the puck to stop the shot, one of many hurled by Team Alaska during Thursday's game. Alaska went on to win, 6-2, to advance to tonight's gold-medal game against Team Alberta North.

In other action Thursday, the junior girls hockey team played a solid game all-around to beat Northwest Territories, 6-2.

Despite what may have seemed a comfortable lead, both teams maintained their intensity throughout.  At halftime, with Alaska up 5-1, UAF women’s ice hockey team assistant coach Jayson Kowalchuk, watching the game from the upper deck, praised the home team’s play. But he said Alaska would do well to not let up, because Northwest Territories was capable of quickly closing that gap.

And sure enough, a minute into the third period, while he was talking with a reporter …

“Northwest Territories just put their second goal in here,” Kowalchuk said. “And like I said, all of a sudden, we’ve got a 5-2 game here.”

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Members of Team Alaska's youth hockey teams cheer on the junior girls team in Thursday's game.

Alaska boys bantam hockey team member Gunnar Stadem, who along with his teammates was sitting in the stands behind the girl’s team forming a sort of cheering squad, had this analysis:

“I think they’re playing excellent,” Stadem said. “Good floor checks. Lots of shots. Setting up some solid plays. They’re just totally outworking this Team Northwest.”

Kowalchuk said he and some other coaches have been scouting around during the games for talent. And he likes what he sees.

“We are looking for players,” he said. “And there’s some good talent out here. There really is. Actually, earlier on today, I talked to the Alberta North coach, and she mentioned she had four players that are graduating and looking to going to college next year and were interested in hearing about our program up here.”

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Team Alaska's Gillian Winkelman shoots a free throw while teammates Jess Reiter, far left, Toma Kimlinger, near left, and NiNi Figuracion, right, look on.

Kowalchuk will get a chance to take a close look at those players tonight at 7:30 at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, when Team Alaska plays Alberta North for the gold ulu.

The Alaska junior girls basketball team also will be vying for the gold. They handily dispatched Team Yukon Thursday, 97-36. The Alaska girls will go up against Northwest Territories for the championship at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Patty Center.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.