Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

SKILLS TRAINING – Jonas Leas, right, and Joe Stokes, centre, participate in an offensive hockey drill during a Yukon Hockey Academy on-ice session at the Canada Games Centre this morning.

Image title

Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

BACK AT IT – Dylan Cozens stickhandles through a series of pucks under the supervision of Yukon Hockey Academy instructor Kevin Petovello this morning.

Elite U16 hockey program to be launched this fall

A new-look U16 Minor Midget Mustangs hockey team is slated to hit the ice in Whitehorse next season.

By Marcel Vander Wier on July 22, 2015

A new-look U16 Minor Midget Mustangs hockey team is slated to hit the ice in Whitehorse next season.

Last week, the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association issued a call for interest to players across the North in anticipation of a training camp Aug. 14 to 17, after which the team will be named.

Russ Smoler, the newly elected president of Hockey Yukon, said the hope is to attract high-level 14- and 15-year-old players to Whitehorse to build an elite Minor Midget squad.

Northerners from Alaska, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are all expected to challenge for roster positions.

The team is being launched to counter an exodus of midget players to Outside teams, Smoler explained.

Last season, 12 midget-aged players suited up for teams in B.C., forcing the Yukon to pull out as host of the 2015 Tier 3 championships.

“Hockey Yukon is committed to develop a made-in-the-North solution to meet the challenge,” Smoler said. “What we’d like to see is this building into a midget program.”

Smoler said the nature of competitive hockey is changing quickly, especially with the onslaught of hockey academies geared towards 15-year-old players.

A Whitehorse-based program provides a different option for northerners not used to the big city.

“We can offer skidooing on the weekend like they would do at home,” said Smoler. “That’s an attraction.”

The program is expected to implement a five-to-one practice-to-game ratio with a season of 30-plus games, Estimated cost per player is $8,000.

Early partners of the program include Air North, the Yukon’s education system and the Prince George Cariboo Cougars – a club in the BC Hockey Major Midget League.

In fact, Cougars’ GM and head coach Trevor Sprague penned a letter of support for the initiative, where he notes the Yukon program gives his club an opportunity to give his team’s alternate players more ice time.

“Having an option for developing players in this part of the province is extremely important for these young athletes, where they still have the support of their families and communities nearby,” Sprague wrote.

Mustangs head coach Martin Lawrie said the program’s design is likened to that of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League.

“Players are going south at younger and younger ages and minor hockey is taking a hit,” he said.

The Minor Midget Mustangs will draw players from across the North. Outside players will be billeted by local families and will attend Whitehorse high schools. The program will also run for the entire school year.

Lawrie said Porter Creek Secondary School will even partner with Yukon Hockey to implement a Hockey Canada program that will see Grade 8 players on the ice for credit.

“Schools and minor hockey need to work together to keep our sport healthy,” he said.

The new U16 club will likely participate in a variety of tournaments in Alaska and Washington, Lawrie said, adding the team hopes to host at least two local showcase weekends with rival sport schools facing off with the hosts in Whitehorse.

“I think it will be successful and you will see it grow,” he said. “The long-term vision would see the Yukon as a hockey destination.”

Whitehorse has everything necessary to be a hockey hotbed, he noted, including qualified coaches, a welcoming community and world-class facilities.

The program will run similar to other Mustangs programs, and will be funded by the players’ families.

At some point, Lawrie is hopeful to have a major sponsor back the cause.

Local players who have already registered for next month’s training camp include Bryce Anderson and Dylan Kindervater.

Both were members of the Bantam Mustangs’ Tier 3 championship squad last season.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Anderson, 14, told the Star this morning following an on-ice workout with the Yukon Hockey Academy.

“There’s going to be some older guys on the team with a lot of skill. It will be good for Whitehorse to have some good hockey up here.

“We’ve got a great coach and a lot of guys who want to come up here. And it will be nice to stay with my family for another year, because once you’re gone, you’re gone.”

Added Kindervater, 15: “It’s a pretty good situation. We’ve never had a U16 midget team here, so it’s something new for Whitehorse and I think it will be fun for the year.

“My parents aren’t really ready for me to move out this season, so it will be nice to stay here.”

Not all eligible players will be playing on the team, however.

Fourteen-year-old Dylan Cozens, for instance, recently committed to a hockey program in Delta, B.C.

“We will lose a few players,” said Lawrie. “We have to prove this works. But I think eventually we’ll be able to keep our kids here and attract other good players.

“At this point, the most important thing for 14- and 15-year-olds is skill development,” he added.

“There’s so much pressure on kids and parents on exposure. We want to provide an option at home that doesn’t cost $50,000.”

In other news, Anderson and Cozens continue to hold their status as projected draft picks in next year’s Western Hockey League bantam draft.

One western scouting agency projects the duo to be selected in the first four rounds of the 2016 draft.

More information on the program is available at www.hockeyyukon.ca/.

Be the first to comment

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.