AWG Day 6: Curling gold and basketball heartbreak

With one day left to go, NWT sits at 3rd in medals at the Arctic Winter Games

Arctic Winter Games girls curling champions Taryn Williams (from left), Janis O'Keefe, Coach Ashley Green, Olivia Gibbons and Katharine Thomas with their golden uluit at the Mount McIntyre Rec Centre in Whitehorse on Friday.

With one day to go, the NWT speed skaters are the territory’s winningest team at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, bringing home a whopping 38 medals including 17 gold, six silver and 14 bronze uluit.

The skaters increased their medal count by eight on Friday, taking wins and bronze medals in the long-distance and relay events.

The NWT curling teams also brought home some hardware. The boys won a bronze medal against team Alberta North and the girls claimed gold, forcing rivals team Yukon to concede the contest after ten ends.

Heading into the game, the NWT girls had been a little nervous, but knew the key to success lay in controlling their game and not letting Yukon direct the play.

And they did just that.

“We went out there and we played our game. We came out firing from the first end to the 10th end, put the pressure on them and made our shots,” Taryn Williams said.

“I’m really proud of the team. We controlled them from the first end to the 10th, when they shook,” she said.

Curler Katharine Thomas’ brother James was one of the speed skaters who took home a bronze medal in the juvenile boys 2000-metre relay. According to Katharine, “he’s a bit jealous that he got beat in the medals by his sister.”

Coach Ashley Green said she was especially proud of how her team performed given the pressure of losing to Yukon in their first meeting earlier in the week.

“I’m proud of them. They definitely came together as a team and showed it to everyone else. They’ve really improved over the course of the week, and they proved it by coming out so strong in the first end today,” Green said.

Friday also brought one gold medal for NWT in the Dene Games pole push, two  gold and a silver in the junior and juvenile mixed ski biathlon relay and a silver in Arctic Sports airplane won by Inuvik’s Dave Halpine.

But it was heartbreak all ‘round for the NWT basketball teams.

Both guys and girls teams played in semifinal games, both against Alaska and both resulted in losses, sending Alaska to the gold medal round on Saturday and leaving NWT to settle with bronze.

The girls took their loss especially hard, losing what had been an exceedingly close game up until the end of the third quarter. In the fourth, however, Alaska managed to figure out NWT’s defences, and came on too strong to stop.

While the boys team also suffered a loss, coach Neil Diem was more upbeat about the game and how his players performed.

“Yeah, for sure it hurts. But on the other hand a lot of the young guys on the team stepped up and got to play some minutes. They really stepped up, and did well when they were in there, so from that point of view it was a good game,” Diem said.

The biggest problem his team ran into was foul trouble early in the game, Diem said, especially when a couple of players fouled out and he had to start relying on his second line.

“The strategy going in was, we’d played them before and won. The strategy was to play half-court sort of straight up man-to-man, and then on offence to focus on working the ball down low to some of our bigger guys, but when they started fouling out that strategy was kind of done,”

Instead it fell to his youngest players to help carry the game. One of them was 14-year-old Kent Alacida, who stands barely two-thirds the height of most of the players on his team. Despite his stature, Alacida was responsible for setting up many of the scoring opportunities his team was able to capitalize on.

“He’s like, maybe 4 feet tall,” Diem said.

“But he’s used to that. He plays in the men’s league in Yellowknife, so he’s used to playing against bigger guys. He went to the Western Canada Games last year, and there he was two years younger than everyone else.

"Here he’s almost five years younger than some of the players. He himself could have two Arctic Winter Games. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but by the time he’s done the Basketball NWT program, he might be one of the best players we have if he keeps working hard and progressing the way he is.”

With their tournament over, Diem said his team plans on cleaning their wounds, learning from their mistakes, and cheering on the NWT hockey teams who are in gold medal action tomorrow at the Takhini Arena in Whitehorse.