Rookie curlers have come a long way

Rankin Inlet team first threw rocks in December

Jamie Airut of Rankin Inlet throws a rock in a losing effort against Team NWT at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse Wednesday.

Despite less than three months of curling experience, Rankin Inlet’s David Kakuktinniq Jr threw one of the sport’s toughest shots, a triple angle take out, which cleared the house in a 10-1 loss to Alaska Tuesday.

“Everybody here recognized it was a skilled shot,” coach Kevin Bussey said. “We’re quite proud of him for that.”

“At first I didn’t see it,” Kakuktinniq, the skip, said, “and I saw my coach behind the window calling for a time out, and he pointed it out. I just went for it. I just put in a bit of weight and hit the rocks. My coach told me everyone was talking about it afterwards.”

It was one of the bright spots in a tournament that, for these boys, is more of an education in curling in the face of what their coach calls “extremely strong” competition.

“Most of them hadn’t handled a curling rock before December,” Bussey said. “They are athletes, either hockey or soccer, but they’ve picked up the skills of curling exceptionally well and holding their own.”

“We’re not doing as good as we’d like to be doing, but it’s fun,” Kakuktinniq said, noting it will likely be his last Arctic Winter Games after competing in 2010 in hockey.

“It’s been good learning new stuff with curling and meeting new people. It’s all good.”

Bussey predicts that two years from now, when the other boys are too old to compete, Rankin's Connor Faulkner will be skipping the team that will aim to return to the Games. At 13, he’s the most experienced curler, but only by a bit.

“My mom curls and she needed someone to curl with her in a bonspiel last year,” Faulkner said, noting they placed second. “I tried it out and liked it, so I started this year.”

Facing good competition will benefit Faulkner and the other boys, Bussey said, as Rankin Inlet offers limited opportunities for such experience.

“We don’t have that luxury (of high-calibre competition) in Rankin Inlet,” he said, noting the Games also offer the chance “to play on some good ice. And have fun, of course. They’ve got the curling bug and they’re learning the skills quickly.”

The team played its final game Wednesday, losing 7-2 to Alaska in the match to determine the fourth and fifth places.