Team Nunavut came away with the bronze medal at the Arctic Winter Games. Connor Ejetsiak is the ninth person from the left. Courtesy Photo

It’s amazing the feeling that comes from representing the place you come from in any kind of organized sporting event. It is an opportunity not everyone has a chance to enjoy, and for those that do, it is a treasured moment.

Imagine being able to do it twice within a matter of weeks? That is exactly the experience Connor Ejetsiak is enjoying right now.

Connor Ejetsiak is Inuk. He was born and raised in Iqaluit. He moved south in August to go to school and play hockey. He’s been playing hockey his whole life in Iqaluit with the Iqaluit Wizards. After arriving in the area, he was enrolled in Grade 10 at Tagwi Secondary School and was selected to play hockey with the Seaway Valley “AA” team.

Connor’s mom, Tarrah Kelly says that Connor was thrilled to get to play hockey in the Arctic Winter Games. “All of the boys on the team have been playing for so long,” says Kelly, “and you know, the Arctic winter games is something they all look forward to. It’s a pretty big thing to make the team. This is his first Arctic Winter Games. He was scheduled to attend in 2020 to play futsul (like indoor soccer) but because of COVID it was cancelled, so this is his first time.”

It has been a year of change. Initially Connor was separated from most of his family by the move, but now they are back together.

“We actually just moved down the rest of the family,” says Kelly. “We just moved down a couple of weeks ago, Jan. 14, I relocated with my job. Now we’re all down here as well. So, he’s back living with us and still going to school and playing hockey.

“He adjusted really well,” adds Kelly. “He’s very smart, he’s very intelligent, but he’s also very independent. For him, the transition was really, easy. He made friends right away, he kind of got into the swing of things with the hockey. He’s doing well in school. He’s had no issues.”

His mom obviously is very proud of him, for how he has dealt with change, but also for the type of person he is, on and off the ice. “He’s all about the team. It really is a team sport. And he’s big on, you know, things like if the goalie makes a good save, he goes and congratulates the goalie. As well, if the goalie let in, you know, a bad bounce and he should have had it, he’ll go and comfort the goalie. He’s there for every celebration. He usually has more assists than goals. He’s always about making the plays and what’s best for the team, which in my opinion, you know, that’s what you need.”

“Normally, it’s very unusual that you would have Arctic Winter Games and Canada Winter Games in the same year. That doesn’t happen, but because of COVID, right? Just one more thing that the virus affected. Between the Arctic Winter Games wrapping up and the Canada Winter Games starting, there wouldn’t have been much point in Connor taking an expensive flight home for only a couple days, of school, so he decided to spend the week with his grandparents before attending a week-long training camp for Team Nunavut before heading to PEI and the Canada Winter games.”

At the completion of the Arctic Winter Games, in which Team Nunavut won the bronze medal in hockey, Ejetsiak spoke about the experience. “The best part was playing again with the guys, and just having a whole bunch of fun. It was great winning the bronze medal too. It was 3-3, but with about six minutes left in overtime we scored.”

When asked if there was a professional hockey player who he tried to model himself after, he showed that he has really high standards. “Nathan Mackinnon,” he said, “or Connor McDavid.”

Not bad role models.

After a few days to recover, it’s back to hockey and preparation for the Canada Winter Games in PEI. He says he expects it to be harder and faster. “I’ve just been told that it’s a bigger turnout than the Arctic winter games,” said Ejetsiak. “There’s going to be a lot more scouts and stuff. Every game there’s going to be scouts everywhere. That’s pretty much all I’ve heard. It’s going to be faster hockey, more physical.”

In the meantime, between tournaments he has a chance to spend some time with his grandparents. He knows, however that a lot of people in Eastern Ontario will be cheering for Team Nunavut when the Canada Winter Games begin.