Hockey Yukon is hoping to bring back competitive midget and bantam hockey in the form of a development program after not having enough players for Mustangs teams this season.
The league held an open tryout for U18 players born between 2000-2002 Wednesday night for the program with the ultimate goal of competing in the 2018 Arctic Winter Games for the Yukon.
Head coach Elgin Schwantz said ahead of the tryout there are a lot of players who still want to play at the competitive level and so this is a second go at building a team.
“It always seems to fall apart numbers wise,” Schwantz said of the U18 Mustangs program. “We’re trying to build late in the season a travel team to get out once or twice and from that team, hold possibly another tryout for the Arctic Winter Games.”
As this is the first year going this route, the program is still a work in progress with 15 skaters and no eligible goalies showing up to the tryout.
“We’re stepping up and we’re trying,” Schwantz said, noting he had a friend come in to play in net as well as a goalie target on the other end of the ice.
Rob Green, Hockey Yukon president, said the Mustangs program is in the process of changing and the new program is designed to represent all of the territory welcome to all players, and not just those from Whitehorse.
“Basically because of the development of the Rivermen and the number of kids we have at the moment, we don’t have it as a typical Mustangs program this year,” he said.
There is a Mustangs team at the peewee level, Green said, with the team competing in the bantam house league level and will travel to tournaments representing the Yukon.
For the bantam players, a similar development program started at the end of September and Green said they had more players turnout than the Mustangs tryouts and are moving forward with a 17-player roster.
But Green is not sure why the Mustangs tryouts didn’t have the number of players they are receiving now for these development programs.
The numbers have been fluctuating in recent years, Green said, and it is hard to predict.
This year, the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association has a midget house league program with three teams, which Green said they haven’t had in several years.
“It’s nice to see that midget house league has that many kids that want to stay playing hockey — what holds for the future for hockey in the Yukon,” he said.
Schwantz and his assistant coach Marcel Barrault stepped up for the midget development team because they knew there were lots of players, including their own kids, who wanted to continue playing at a high level.
“We’re doing this for a reason,” he said. “It’s for those boys in there (on the ice) is why we’re doing this.”
The team will act as a travel team competing in tournaments with sights already set on Vancouver as well as competing in the Whitehorse International Showdown running Dec. 1-3 and ultimately the Arctic Winter Games in February.
With 15 skaters at the first tryout, already more than the 11 who attended the Mustangs tryout, Schwantz said they hope to hold three or four more tryouts and get more players out — including goalies — and build a team.
Green said there have been “flex years” like this in the past with lower numbers, which seems to fall in line with Arctic Games years, but they try their best to give the interested players, no matter how many, a chance to get on the ice.
“All we can do is work with what we get every year, try to support the kids the best we can and try to give them the development they’re looking for,” he said.