STRATFORD, ONT. — Wearing a borrowed Shakespearean jacket, fluorescent yellow socks and a foam curling rock on his head, the man approached Sean Turriff in the hallway. His aim was not to startle Turriff — as his outfit might have in any normal hallway — but instead to commend him and his curling rink.
“It’s like I keep saying,” Turriff told him, “we’d rather be here than not be here.”
“Well, it’s made quite an impression,” the man said before disappearing into the arena.
“You get a lot of positive comments,” Turriff said, moments later. “A lot of people don’t like the fact that we get beat up.”
His team had been beaten up, beaten sideways and beaten lengthwise but had never once seemed beaten down. Turriff is coach of the Nunavut men’s team at the Canadian junior curling championships in Stratford, Ont., overseeing a foursome that has travelled great distances with modest goals for the national stage — including, just maybe, a first win.
They are from Rankin Inlet, a community of about 2,600 on the western shore of Hudson Bay. Arthur Siksik, the 20-year-old skip with thick-framed glasses and a gentle smile, has been curling since his mid-teens. Many of his opponents this week started right after they learned to walk.
Nunavut lost its opener 33-1 to Manitoba. They fell 23-2 to Alberta in their fourth game, and they were shut out in the final game of their preliminary round schedule, a 14-0 loss to Newfoundland and Labrador.
“A lot of competitive teams, if you suffered one loss like the first loss we had, it would destroy them, literally destroy them,” Turriff said. “These guys shrugged it off, came back the next game . . . ‘Ready to go, let’s go coach.’
“And that, in a lot of ways, breaks my heart, because I want that. I want more for them.”
Nunavut is not a Canadian curling powerhouse. The territory made its first appearance at the junior event three years ago, and it is only now preparing to debut at the Scotties and the Brier — the women’s and men’s national championships — this year.
Siksik has the distinction of being the first man to throw a stone for Nunavut at the junior national tournament, playing lead on that trailblazing team in 2013. They had never won a game heading into this year’s tournament.
“There are so many people who like curling here,” he said. “And in Rankin, it’s just us. Coming to a place where everybody loves curling is just awesome.”
Siksik, an educational assistant in Rankin Inlet, is the oldest member of the team, and is its unquestioned leader. Sitting around the table before a game this week, the other three members sat silent — too shy to speak, according to their coaches — while he spoke.
Tyson Komaksiutiksak, 19, is vice-skip, while brother Javen, 15, is second. Ryan Aggark is the 14-year-old lead.
“We’re all related,” Siksik said with a smile.
To get to Stratford, they had to fly 2 ½ hours due south to Winnipeg and then fly east to Toronto, followed by a two-hour bus ride to the tournament. Travel is nothing new, though, according to Angela Dale, their regular coach in Rankin Inlet.
Dale, an assistant manager at a hardware and lumber yard, had already run through most of her vacation time because of curling and could not join the team in Stratford. She said it usually costs $15,000 for the team to travel to its next closest curling club — a budget that includes $2,000 for each player in airfare.
Dale is president of their home rink, the Qavik Curling Club, which has two sheets of ice, but not many other essentials for elite-level curling. It does not have heat, for example.
“And we have no dehumidification, and we have no water purification, so all of the impurities freeze to the top of the ice,” she said. “It’s hard to practice here for arena ice conditions at a national competition.”
“If it’s minus-40 outside,” Siksik said, “it’s minus-40 in the curling rink.”
There are other challenges to living in Canada’s north. All four players nodded when they reached a consensus that a jug of milk can cost $15. Turriff, who lives in Aurora and coaches the men’s varsity team at Humber College, met the Nunavut team for a short pre-competition camp in Winnipeg and noticed their voracious appetite for orange juice.
They guzzled it, he said, glass after glass. And eventually he realized that a single glass at home could cost $10.
“I really love it up there,” Siksik said. “I don’t think it’s that hard. Maybe the cold is kind of hard. But I don’t know. I’ll probably live there forever. It’s the best.”
On Tuesday night, the Nunavut women’s team beat the Northwest Territories for the first win in Nunavut’s history. The men, playing on the next sheet over, stole glances of the post-match celebration.
And then, on Wednesday afternoon, the men had another chance.
They played against the Northwest Territories and built a 9-2 lead through seven ends, only to give up three in the eighth. They held on, winning 9-6 and showing that, despite their lopsided losses, they were never defeated.
“What does it mean?” Siksik asked. “This is the best.”