Hundreds of northern athletes descend on Alberta for Canada Winter Games

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Team Nunavut arrives for the closing ceremonies at the 2015 Canada Winter Games. This year, the territory is sending 43 athletes to the games, including its first-ever hockey team. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
Some of the North’s best and brightest young athletes will be in action over the next two weeks in Red Deer, Alberta (Prairies), taking part in the Canada Winter Games.

With the games’ opening ceremonies set to take part on Friday, Feb. 15, here’s a look at each of the three territories’ travelling teams and how you can follow CBC North’s reporters on the ground at one of Canada’s largest multi-sport competitions.

Team Yukon

Over 100 Yukon athletes will take part in 15 different sports at the Canada Games, including several in which they will be the only territory participating: artistic swimming, alpine skiing, freestyle skiing and snowboarding.

The Yukon team finished with an impressive eight medals at the 2015 Games. Expectations are tempered somewhat for the 2019 iteration, though, as the squad is composed primarily of younger athletes who hope to use the competition to gain experience at a national level.

Hockey player Kyron Crosby will carry the flag for team Yukon at the 2019 Games. (George Maratos/CBC)

Hockey player Kyron Crosby, Yukon’s flag-bearer, said he’s excited to represent his territory and that his team plans to turn some heads.

“I think we’re going to be pretty strong,” he said. “I think if we play together and play like brothers… we all grew up playing hockey together, so I think we’re going to be pretty good.”

Two to watch: Derek Deuling and Sonjaa Schmidt, cross country skiing. Yukon’s cross-country ski program has produced several Olympic competitors and Canada Games medals throughout the years, including several in 2015.

Though the teenaged Deuling and Schmidt will have tough competition due to cross-country skiing’s 23-and-under age category, the two skiers are both coming off multiple top-10 finishes at the Eastern Canadian Championships earlier this month and could surprise in Red Deer.

Sonjaa Schmidt at the Marsh Lake Loppet in Yukon. Schmidt is one of the athletes travelling to Red Deer as part of Yukon’s cross-country ski team. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)
Team Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories’ contingent at the 2019 games includes 157 participants in 12 different sports. Six communities are represented: several athletes are from Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River and Fort Smith; table tennis athlete Shannan Bonnetrouge will represent Fort Providence; and Casey Tai, from Paulatuk, is the territory’s lone badminton athlete.

The Northwest Territories’ archery team. This is the first time the N.W.T. will ever send an archery team to the Canada Winter Games. (Submitted by Aboriginal Sports Circle)

Chef de Mission Bill Othmer said there are several things for fans to be excited about, from medal contenders in biathlon and judo, to the territory sending its first-ever archery team to the games.

Othmer said that while expectations for podium finishes are modest, he does expect to see many athletes deliver personal bests over the two weeks of competition.

“For these athletes here, this is their Olympics,” said Othmer. “From a team N.T. perspective, we just want to make sure first and foremost they leave it all in the field of play but that they also have fun in it.”

One to watch: Wilson Elliot, judo. A reigning national champion, Elliot placed fifth at the Pan American Junior Championships as a member of team Canada this past summer and is the territory’s best shot at a medal at the games.

A podium finish for Elliot would also continue a streak of medals for the territory in the heavyweight judo division at the Canada Games, after Brent Betsina took home a silver medal in 2015.

The presumptive favourite in his division, Elliot is shooting for gold.

Wilson Elliot, an 18-year-old from Yellowknife, is a Canadian junior judo champion and a gold medal favourite at the Canada Winter Games. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

“I guess there’s some pressure but I’m excited to show what I’ve got,” he said at a recent practice.

Elliot will compete on Wednesday, Feb. 27, during the second week of the games.

Team Nunavut

Nunavut will be sending 43 athletes to Red Deer, competing in hockey, table tennis, speed skating, judo and badminton.

It’s the first time the territory’s hockey team has ever participated in the Canada Games, and team captain Max Joy will carry the territory’s flag. Much of the team comes from outside the territory’s capital of Iqaluit and several athletes are on loan from their southern prep schools to participate.

Max Joy, in the foreground, is the captain of Team Nunavut hockey and the territory’s flag-bearer. For the first time, the territory will send a hockey team to the Canada Games. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

“It’s an amazing experience itself just to get to go,” said Martin Joy, the team’s coach. “But the fact that we’re the first team and it all came together so perfectly for these guys to come… it comes along once in your lifetime. It’s a great honour.”

One to watch: Emma Carpenter, speed skating: The 14-year-old Carpenter won four gold ulus at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games. This will be an experience-gathering games for Carpenter, who will be eligible to return to the Canada Games in 2023 as an 18-year-old.

Emma Carpenter shows off a gold ulu at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games. The then 13-year-old, from Iqaluit, took home four gold ulus at the event. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)
Follow the games with CBC North

CBC North will have three reporters following northern athletes at the Canada Games. Follow Nick Murray, Garrett Hinchey, and George Maratos on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss a moment.

For highlights from all three territories, follow CBC North on Facebook, and follow your home territory at CBC Yukon, CBC Nunavut, or CBC NWT.

To watch the North’s athletes live, check the games’ live streaming schedule at canadagames.live.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada: 2022 Arctic Winter Games to be hosted in northern Alberta, CBC News

Finland: Ice fishing World Championships latest in Finnish series of odd sports events, Yle News

Norway: Swedish musher wins Finnmarksløpet, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Iditarod adds four new board members amid criticism, Alaska Public Media

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Garrett Hinchey, CBC News

Garrett Hinchey, CBC News

For more news from Canada visit CBC News.

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