Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

TEACHING MOMENT – NHL alumni John Chabot, centre, and his son Kyle were here in Whitehorse for the Council of Yukon First Nations inaugural Centre Ice Hockey Camp held at the Canada Games Centre last week.

CYFN holds inaugural Centre Ice hockey camp

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) held two hockey camps last week.

By Morris Prokop on August 27, 2021

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) held two hockey camps last week.

The Centre Ice Co-ed camp took place from Aug. 17-19.

A girls-only clinic took place from Aug. 21-22. Both camps took place at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse.

Players aged five to 18 years from across the territory took part.

CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston was an organizer and active participant in the camp.

“I just wanted to provide an opportunity for everybody to come and if there was barriers we were able to support the families through financial assistance as well, through Jordan’s Principle, which is very important to First Nations people who are caught in this world where they don’t have the means, let alone are discriminated in the systems that are there for everybody.”

(Jordan’s Principle ensures First Nation children receive the services they need. Funding is administered by CYFN).

“Through sport, and through leadership training, and the opportunity to participate, that’s what this camp was all about – giving everyone a chance,” adds Johnston.

“We had some great instructors. (Former NHL’er) John Chabot and his son (Kyle), who has also played high-level hockey.

“We did provide some off-ice training as well.”

Instructors John and Kyle Chabot, as well as trainer Mike Diabo, all hail from the same area.

“We had three people from Kitigan Zibi, (a reserve near Maniwaki, Quebec which is home to the Anishinabeg First Nation, an Algonquin band) that came and participated around the camp, because it’s important to have First Nation instructors as well, just to give them an opportunity as well,” says Johnston.

“We just kind of wanted to be First Nations-themed, but definitely not a First Nations camp. All of our instructors were First Nation. It was great to see that. We had a mixed balance of not only girls and boys, but non-First Nation people as well that were just excited that we’re putting something on.

“We had a great week, and I’m kind of glad it’s over now, because it was a lot of work and planning, and even just executing on a daily basis. But looking back now, I’m glad we did it.”

Johnston explains how the camps came about.

“I’m very passionate about hockey, and it just takes a lot of … you have to be motivated obviously … hockey is huge here in the territory, and I’ve been involved with the other First Nation camp that’s run in partnership with the First Nation Hockey Association and Northwestel. I used to work for Northwestel so I had a very good idea of what the potential was, and the offering. The last two years, let alone the Native tournament, we weren’t able to have any hockey. I asked the ladies at the Yukon Indian Hockey (Association) if they were going to do a camp, and they said no. So I said ‘do you want to partner with us?’ and they said ‘no, the timing is not good for us’, so I was like ‘perfect! We can go ahead and do this and we’re not stepping on anybody’s toes,’”related Johnston.

“The opportunity came up – it’s a need – it got these kids prepared for this weekend, as we’ll start the development camps, or ID camps as they’re referred to in minor hockey, on Sunday.

“The kids that participated got upwards of five days of skating, two times a day, and once you’re feeling a little better and prepared, a little confidence, it just bodes well into next year, or the next season.”

According to Johnston, the main funding for the camp came from CYFN.

“We charged a fee … so that was able to give us some equity back into the whole program. At the end of the day, it was just for the families … that needed support. There’s some families that can’t even afford to play hockey because of the cost, so we were able to outfit them with full gear.

“Last year we brought 15 bags of gear from Ottawa to the territory. I’ve also partnered with Bauer Canada, that offered quite a bit of gear as well – brand new gear.”

Johnston places an emphasis on including kids from all over the territory.

“So I’ve been on this path a while. It all kind of came together, and with the support of Jordan’s Principle it allowed us to bring families … down for this tournament which can now help support with hotel, or mileage to travel from Dawson (City) … or wherever they’re coming from. We did have a good number of people from outside of Whitehorse as well, which is obviously my main goal because I grew up in a community.

“We always want to expand our boundaries to include the whole territory– even northern B.C.”

The cost of travel and hotels for out of town kids, including at least five from Old Crow, was covered by funding from Jordan’s Principle. There were three different age groups, five to eight, nine to 12, and 13-plus. Those three groups rotated through a schedule, which gave them an opportunity to enjoy two ice-times per day.

They had field-house training, which allowed them to work on their agility and use different core muscles off the ice. Diabo, who runs a program called First Assist, led the players through two different training sessions.

Lunch was also provided for the players.

The strength and conditioning coach of the Ottawa Senators, Chris Schwarz, participated in a Zoom meeting with the players about the importance of good nutrition, good sleep, and what it takes to be a pro, and his experience working with the Senators on a daily basis.

Brandon Montour, a defenceman with the Florida Panthers of Mohawk descent, took part in a Zoom meeting with the participants as well.

“They need to hear that you shouldn’t be eating chips and drinking pop and thinking you’re going to be great because you need to start building your foundation now,” says Johnston. “The message was always positive. Even from Brandon. It was excellent to hear him talking about living a clean life with no alcohol, no drugs, and how important it was for him to succeed. And if you’re gonna succeed, you can’t have excuses and results. You can only have one or the other … he takes it very seriously and prepares accordingly, so he can be at his best every day. That’s the things kids need to hear.”

Local hockey coach Ken Anderson also participated in the camp.

CYFN staffers Reg McGinty and Anna Lund assisted the kids with their various needs as well.

The Yukon First Nation Education Directorate sent a couple of young activity helpers to offer mentorship to the kids.

Olivia Cook, of Mohawk descent, ran the girl’s clinic, with assistance from John Chabot.

Chabot also gave away autographed jerseys from Chicago goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Canucks defencemen Brady Keeper, Brandon Montour, and a t-shirt autographed by Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

There were a lot of other giveaways, including a hockey bag, hoodies, t-shirts and jerseys.

“Those are the things that kids will remember,” says Johnston.

The grand chief says he saw significant progress by the kids in the camp.

“It’s amazing even watching kids over the last week, how much they can pick up and advance within a very short period of time if they’re coached well and given the proper tools.

“Kids need to hear positive messages, so the idea was that we would influence these kids in a way, not only give them great drills on the ice that they can use to help better their skills, but also to take away some leadership development.”

Johnston says they are planning on doing another camp in the future.

“Next year I’m looking forward to doing this again … maybe partnering with a First Nation organization or the hockey association, but at least I think we’re gonna do an all-girls camp again, because nobody else is doing that, and I think there’s a positive incentive to do that,” says Johnston.

“I think there’s a need to provide a separate clinic … girls are different when they’re amongst their own peers and their own gender … specifically, it’s just a whole different world when it comes to girl’s hockey.”

Johnston feels that camps like these can have a really positive impact on kids.

“The whole basis of this is to give kids a break from their reality. Some of these kids are still living a very tough life. It’s not very fair to them that they’ve been growing up in – whatever may be their challenges that their family faced from a financial perspective, or social. It’s a reality that we’re still dealing with today.”

“If we can do more for the youth and invest in them properly, the outcomes will speak for themselves eventually,” adds Johnston.”It was awesome, and I’ll do it again next year, no problem.”

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