Hockey school recruits top talent for 10th anniversary
Hockey has taken Jordin Tootoo around the world.
Photo by AP
NORTHERN PRIDE – Jordin Tootoo is heading to Whitehorse for the Northwestel Summit Hockey School, where he will be participating in on ice sessions with the school from July 30 to Aug. 3 at the Canada Games Centre. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
Hockey has taken Jordin Tootoo around the world.
Born in Churchill, Man., Tootoo grew up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavit, where he learned the game.
In 2000 he hoisted a world junior championship trophy in Slovakia as a member of Canada’s U-18 team.
Three years later, he captivated the nation with his sensational play at the World Juniors in Nova Scotia.
Now he laces up his skates in Nashville, where he just wrapped up his sixth season in the NHL. By all accounts, it was the best of his career.
One place Tootoo hasn’t been is Whitehorse.
That’s going to change next month.
Tootoo will be taking part in the Northwestel Summit Hockey School, which will run from July 30 to Aug. 3 at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse.
The hockey school, which is partnered with the Yukon Indian Hockey Association, will be celebrating its tenth anniversary.
“There’s not a better player to come in and talk to these kids,” said Joe Martin, head instructor with the school.
When the organization first floated the notion of bringing in Tootoo, they weren’t sure if it would be possible, given the schedule of an NHLer, or if Tootoo would be receptive to the idea.
“He was our Wayne Gretzky, he was someone we were really going after but we didn’t know if it was going to come about,” said Martin.
But once the school reached out to Tootoo, he was more than happy to take part.
“He knows first-hand what it takes to play in the NHL and what it’s like coming from a small community,” said Martin. “He’s the perfect guy to bring in.”
Tootoo won’t be the only one with NHL experience at the camp.
Returning to the school will be Danny Flynn and Brian Kozak.
Flynn, currently the head coach of the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), served as an assistant with the N.Y. Islanders in 2007.
He’s renowned in hockey circles across the county for his ability to break down the game.
“He’s one of the best known coaches in Canada when it comes to X’s and O’s,” said Ranj Pillai, who like Martin, has been involved with the Hockey School since it’s inception.
Flynn’s record speaks for itself.
He’s the all-time winningest coach in Wildcats history. He led St. Francis Xavier University to three CIS National Finals, where he won the championship in 2004.
He remains the winningest coach in school history with 177 victories.
He spent five seasons with the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League as an assistant coach and assistant general manager. During his tenure, the Greyhounds made three straight trips to the Memorial Cup, capturing the championship in 2003.
He’s coached Team Canada on six occasions, medaling each time and bringing home gold at the World Juniors, Word U-18 Championship, Spengler Cup and the World University Cup.
Flynn will be making his tenth appearance at the Hockey School as a head instructor.
As much as the hockey school focuses on skill development, they also extend their lessons off the ice, where students learn critical leadership skills.
“We bring guest speakers in on a daily basis to talk about personal leadership and making good decisions,” said Pillai.
“We try to have a holistic approach to skill development and at the same time, pure hockey skills as well. The group of guys we have coming in are off the charts.”
Kozak is the camp’s leader when it comes to the off-ice training.
His knowledge and experience has elevated the camp to the next level, said Martin.
“He puts together this whole off the ice program for us where he teaches a lot about respect and uses a lot of First Nations teachings,” said Martin
Kozak, who holds an Aboriginal teaching degree from Queens University, has had several notable students during his training and mentoring career.
The list includes Mike Richards, who just captured the top prize in hockey—the Stanley Cup—with the L.A. Kings.
Richards and Kozak each hail from Kenora, Ontario, where Kozak began training Richards at 14 years old.
“He’s know throughout Canada for his off ice training and he’s also had a very successful hockey career,” said Pillai. “He’ll be leading our off ice stuff.”
The experienced and dedicated instructors with the hockey school have graduated players to the NCAA, QMJHL, British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL).
“When we started this there were a couple of guys playing hockey outside of the Yukon and we’ve had over a thousand participants in the last 10 years come through our doors and work with us,” said Pillai.
“I think we’ve really proven that kids here can go on to the next level. There are other people that have played a big role and other hockey schools, but there are probably 20 to 25 kids who are now outside the Yukon, men and women, who are going on to play hockey. I like to think we had some help in building that culture here.”
One of those alumni is Ted Stephens, who in 2007 became the first Yukoner to play in the QMJHL.
Stephens will be returning to the camp as an assistant coach and that’s part of the reason the hockey school is so unique.
“We bring the same people back,” said Martin. “That way the kids know who they are working with. Guys like Ted Stephens, guys that grew up in Whitehorse and have played high level hockey, we get them to come back and be our assistant coaches.”
Every one of the junior coaches the camp employs was at one point in time a participant in the school.
That in-house knowledge and experience allows the hockey school to grow organically and develop strong bonds within the organization.
“Our school wants to stay true to what we do,” said Martin.
“We don’t want to come and have flashing lights and all this extra stuff, we just want to show them who we are through the teaching.”
The school draws participants from across the North, including Old Crow, Teslin, Pelly Crossing and Juneau. Last year nearly 100 athletes participated. The school is planning on capping the registration around that number again this year.
“There are all walks of life there,” said Martin.
“Not every kid is an elite hockey player, we’re still going to make the elite players better, but not every kid aspires to be an NHL player, they might want to be something else. They are going to learn some new things in a safe and respectful environment and it’s rewarding to see them come together, to see their personal growth is great.”
“We’re not there to come down on kids or push them though crazy hurdles. We’re there to make them better, open their eyes and give back by teaching. It’s a school that’s really focusing on teaching respect and helping kids have fun at the same time. We’re going to build their skill set.”
Having someone like Tootoo in the camp will further help to bridge the connections amongst the youth.
“Tootoo is going to mean a ton to the kids here,” said Pillai. “He’s from the North.
He’s a guy who grew up in a small community in the North and I think he’s going to be a good mentor for the kids.”
In 2010 Tootoo made headlines when he voluntarily entered the NHL Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program to receive treatment for alcohol abuse.
He hasn’t had a drink since Dec. 18, 2010 and his perseverance and dedication to remaining sober undoubtedly had a significant impact on his 2012 NHL season.
He played in a career high 77 games, where he collected 30 points, another career mark, and made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut in Game 3 against the Detroit Red Wings.
“He’s really taken on some personal challenges over the last 24 months and he’s doing well,” said Pillai.
Tootoo will also be launching a new website this summer, with a focus on preventing aboriginal youth suicide.
“He’s pumped to come up here,” said Pillai. “It’s the only place in the North he hasn’t been. He’s excited and we’re excited, too.”
Registration to the hockey school can be made at Sport Yukon.