New-look Rupert River Cup tournament provides thrills and surprises

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Changes to the format and scheduling at this year’s Rupert River Cup made for exciting game play at the hockey and broomball tournament.

The most significant change was in the broomball category where Class A and Class B broomball were separated, as opposed to having one open category.

The tournament organizers did this in an effort to eliminate lopsided games and to raise the quality of play.

“It does make a difference,” said Waskaganish Recreation Director Charles J. Hester. “All the scores were closer and the games were more intense.”

This was indeed evident in the highly competitive broomball finals.

The Class A broomball semi-final games both ended in upsets. The sixth-place Wemindji Icestars defeated the Chisasibi Northstars to move on to the finals. Until then, the Northstars were undefeated in round-robin play. In the other game, the fifth-place Waskaganish Starlites beat out the second-place Mistissini Glaciers to move on.

Waskaganish then beat the Icestars by a score of 2-0 in the final to take home the $15,000 top prize. Wemindji got $7,500 as runner-up.

In similar fashion, the Class B broomball playoffs were also exciting where the second-lowest seeded Nemaska Axemen upset the Waskaganish Cougars to go the finals against first-place Lac Simon.

Nemaska would again emerge victorious by a score of 3-2 during a thrilling 3-on-3 overtime period. The game came to an exhilarating end just after Nemaska goalie Junes Tanoush shut down a dangerous scoring chance by Lac Simon. Moments later at the other end of the ice, Nemaska’s Rachel Cheezo buried the winning goal off a perfect behind-the-net pass from forward Nebin Diamond with only 1:42 remaining in the overtime period.

The hockey categories were just as stimulating and featured fast-paced team and individual efforts.

“Waskaganish loves its hockey – it’s a hockey town, broomball as well,” Hester said. “Anytime any of the teams played the house was packed.”

This was indeed evident in the Men’s Class A finals as the Rupert River Sports Complex was filled with over 1000 screaming spectators, many of them standing.

Hester said a lot of people couldn’t even find parking outside the building and were forced to make long walks to the arena.

On the ice, the Waswanipi Chiefs took the top prize of $30,000 by defeating the Wemindji Wolves 4-1 in the final.

At the end of the third period the score was 3-1 and, with just over a minute to go, the Wolves found some life on a power play off a penalty called on Waswanipi’s Alex Cooper.

Wemindji called a time-out to regroup but were unable to capitalize and the Chiefs went on to claim the championship, outshooting the Wolves 28-18. Wemindji received $15,000 as finalists.

In Class B hockey, the Mistissini Chummies defeated the Wiinibek Jets of Waskaganish by a score of 5-1 to take first place and a $12,000 prize. By the end of the first period Mistissini led the Jets by two goals on six shots compared to the Jets who were scoreless after eight.

Derian Blackned put the Jets on the board late in the third period with a short-handed goal.

Despite the score, the Jets outshot the champions 26-13. The Chummies’ victory was in large part due to stellar goaltending by all-star team inductee Luke Mianscum. The other all-star selections from Mistissini were Joshua Trapper and Titus Metabi.

The Women’s hockey final was an exciting game that saw the Wemindji Lady Wolves defeat the Moose Factory Lady Scrappers in overtime to break a deadlock of 4-4 at the end of regulation play. Wemindji’s Cassie Hughboy got the winning goal with 9:40 left in overtime. The shots on goal were 28-16 in favour of Wemindji.

Hester praised the organizers and community members for making the tournament such a hit.

He said it started with a letter from Waskaganish Chief Darlene Cheechoo asking participants and guests to refrain from bringing alcohol to the tournament. This greatly reduced incidents compared to past years. The change was noticeable in the community.

Secondly, Hester wanted to thank the residents of the community for opening their homes to house more than 400 out-of-town visitors. He was also grateful to those in charge of lodging who stayed up past 2 am to make sure everyone had a place to stay.

Another new addition to this year’s event was the traditional meals offered to guests at the cultural village.

Hester said he prefers to view his event as a gathering of nations rather than simply a tournament. He said it is a place where people from around Eeyou Istchee and beyond can come together to make new friends and catch up with old acquaintances.

In light of this year’s success, Hester is looking at making more changes and further expanding next year’s event. He hopes that other communities will follow his lead with the changes to the women’s broomball categories and that they will continue to support women’s hockey.

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