Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

SHOOTING STAR – Edmonton Oilers star centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins plays with the kids at the CYFN Centre Ice hockey camp Friday at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

HAPPY CAMPER – Vincent Melancon, 7, proudly displays the autographed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jersey he won in a draw at the CYFN Centre Ice hockey camp.

CYFN holds annual Centre Ice hockey camp

Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) held their annual Centre Ice hockey camp this past week.

By Morris Prokop on August 1, 2022

Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) held their annual Centre Ice hockey camp this past week.

Girls and boys from five to 18-years-old attended the camp, which ran from July 26-29.

Notables at the camp included NHL Alumnus Aaron Asham, actor/ MMA fighter Andrew Antsanen, and Mike Diabo, a fitness and nutrition coach.

Centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers also put in an appearance on Friday.

According to Instructor John Chabot, who ran the camp, over 90 kids participated.

“We had three different groups,” related Chabot. “The youngest was the smallest – about 13 kids. And then we had a middle group from 8-12 or 13. We had almost 40. And then we had 26 (in) 14 and up, which is a good number for 14 and up. Having 24, being able to have a game at the end of the four days was awesome.

“A third of them signed up last week after they heard that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was gonna be here so that spurred the interest and I think it got the word out there, which was nice. We were expecting 60 and we got 90,” he added.

Chabot said the camp went well.

“We come up here, yeah, we’re happy to do the hockey but also talk to the kids about leadership and accountability, our journeys, racism and we try to open them to the fact that – especially Indigenous kids – there is still and always will be, so how we dealt with it, how we went forward with it, how my parents prepared me, so we try and prepare them in a different way, so ... being true to yourself and taking a chance on yourself. So all these little things that go into a hockey camp. We try to touch on other subjects that can help the kids in other ways.”

Chabot said it’s not just about hockey.

“It’s almost like a leadership camp. We don’t really want to – I think that word is overused. It’s not so much a leadership camp, but it is a life skills camp.”

Chabot gave a brief overview of the camp.

“It’s all skill-based ... a lot of edge work, a lot of change of directions, a lot of puck handling, a lot of shinny. We go with at least four stations on the ice and the kids all go in groups of five ... as the numbers go up, we get more and more stations. We get them involved. The kids are shooting at some, stick handling at others, battling at others, puck battles – all the things that are involved in a game. And all involved with turning, finding time and space, so incorporating things into our drills that they can use as they move forward with their hockey.”

Their days started at 8:30 and finished at 4:30.

“At the end of the day, we had our talk. So we had Ryan (Nugent-Hopkins) today (Friday), I talked, and Aaron (Asham) talked. Another teacher here was Andrew Antsanen, a guy that was actually on my first season of Hit the Ice. And he came to Ottawa and lived with me for a month and a half till he found another place to play junior hockey – and he’s flourished. He played junior hockey a couple years, went back to school, got his degree in carpentry, started his own business, became an MMA fighter, did that for a while to stay in shape and now is on the hit show Shoresy, a spin-off for LetterKenny. He’s one of the main characters.

“He talked to the kids about life skills, taking a chance, believing in yourself. Andrew left home when he was twelve to go to Notre Dame. Never played organized hockey in his life. Now he’s living outside of Montreal, comfortable as heck. And who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t of left?

“And so it’s a great story for the kids to hear and it’s a great story for everybody to hear, actually. It’s about taking a chance, taking pride, believing in yourself, all those things wrapped up into one young man. It was nice.”

Needless to say, the kids were impressed.

“Awesome ... you could tell by the kids’ reaction to it is if they show up the next day. Like I’ve been to camps as a kid where it’s you get up, you’re excited the first day, you’re less excited the second day and as the week goes on – but it was awesome. The kids would go home and tell their parents ‘I’m so sore, I’m so tired – can’t wait to go tomorrow.’ Or one kid gets up this morning at 6 o’clock and puts his equipment on because he wants to get to the rink right away, so he knows that we’re gonna play.

“We have Mike Diabo from KZ (Kitigan Zibi, a reserve near Maniwaki, Quebec which is home to the Anishinabeg First Nation, an Algonquin band), which is my community. He’a an off-ice guy and he does a great job of engaging the kids emotionally and positively and so they work hard. And then they come on the ice and we’re always running them through things and they work hard and don’t even know they’re working hard. They’re having fun and creating competitions.”

Chabot agreed that it’s not hard work when it’s fun.

“Exactly. Like Ryan said, not many people get to do what they want their whole lives. I’m an ex-NHL guy and Ryan is an NHL guy and you get to wake up every day and you go to the rink. What better way to spend a day?”

Chabot is planning on coming back next year.

“We hope to. Again, grand chief Peter Johnston is the reason we’re here. He had it last year during that surging pandemic. It kind of broke for about a month and we came up in that month and we were lucky. We had a good turnout and it went really well and it was very well received. They had to cancel the other hockey school that was here Karee Vallevand, I think. She called Peter and said it’s open if you want it and he took the ice and called me in about a month ago maybe and I got a crew together and we came up with Aaron Asham, an ex-NHL guy also living in New York and Aaron and I do a lot of things together and he’s a great guy. He buys into it. He gets into it. The kids love him. Had a very good NHL career. He knows now that as a person of some stature that he does carry weight and he gets that, so he comes here and he’s a real good influence on the kids.

“He talked to one of the kids today about – the young lad that’s going to Medicine Hat – talked to him about going to the ‘Dub’ (Western Hockey League) and what to expect. Giving a little of his experiences to everybody.”

The “young Lad” was 14-year-old phenom Gavin McKenna, who is the first Yukoner to be drafted first overall to the WHL.

“It was great because he’s a local boy and he stayed local, got good support and these kids grew up with him, a lot of them. They know him. He talked – it was his first speaking engagement. He did a great job. Talked a bit about having to leave home and where he’s gone because of hockey and who he’s had a chance to meet. It’s an interesting story and the story’s gonna get better, so good for him and congratulations to him.”

McKenna’s message to the kids was simple.

“Don’t give up. Don’t let where you’re from dictate where you’re gonna go and what you’re gonna be. Prime example. You might have to travel a bit, but he got to stay home longer than most and play hockey at a high level. As a parent, they put in a lot of time, and as a parent of a hockey player, it’s sometimes not easy. It can be expensive, especially up here in Whitehorse. He’s got to travel down south and play meaningful games through the summer, especially ... at these high level Triple A camps and traveling to Italy and places he’s gone, it can get pretty pricey. So there’s a commitment from the whole family goes into it. He’s a good kid, from what I understand; his family should be proud of him.”

Chabot added “my son couldn’t come ... he had an issue that he had to deal with at home. He said besides where he is now, Montreal, in Canada, Whitehorse is his favourite place to go, so he had to miss this trip, but we’re hoping in the near future we’re going to be able to come back with him.

“I brought my wife last year. It’s a great place to be. It’s just so fresh and the people are so friendly and everybody’s from everywhere, it seems, so it’s almost like ... where you’re a small crew of people from another country and you band together. There are a lot of people from this town that aren’t from here, but they get here and they buy into the idea of Whitehorse, and it makes it a fun place to be.”

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