Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Morris Prokop

BULLET SHOT – 14 year old phenom Gavin McKenna fires a shot at goaltender Kieren Mooney during a hockey camp for elite players Tuesday at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

HOCKEY HUDDLE – Players gather around coach Jake Jirousek in-between drills at the hockey camp at CGC Tuesday.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

KEEP-AWAY – Oscar Burgess keeps the puck away from the long reach of Lukas Jirousek during a drill at CGC on Tuesday.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

GETTING THE HOOK – Sasa Jirousek gets his stick on Owen Palfreyman during a drill at CGC on Tuesday.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

GLOVE GRAB – Kieren Mooney makes a save on Josh Schenk during a drill at CGC on Tuesday morning.

Elite Yukon hockey players camp on the ice this month

A camp for the Yukon's youth hockey elite is taking place at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse.

By Morris Prokop on July 26, 2022

A camp for the Yukon's youth hockey elite is taking place at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse.

The camp takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 a.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

It started July 11 and goes for one month.

Camp participants include one NCAA player, Lukas Jirousek, three WHL draft picks: Gavin McKenna (Medicine Hat Tigers), Landon Cowper (Prince Albert Raiders) and Luke Cozens (Lethbridge Hurricanes), and three junior A players: Josh Schenk (BCHL) Owen Palfreyman (AJHL) and Dawson Smith (SJHL).

There are Junior B players attending as well.

Jake Jirousek, the coach running the camp, is the father of Lukas Jirousek.

"We've had him doing this since they were eight. It started with a pretty good group with Bryce Anderson, Dylan Cozens, Gavin (Mckenna), Lyle Lowrey, all these top guys and we've been working at it since then.

"I do this in the summer mostly for these guys to give them a skills outlet with other high-end guys.

Martin Lawrie is the other camp coach.

Jirousek said the level of focus and commitment that the players put out is key.

"Summer is time for skills. I know a lot of guys, they love playing games. That adds to it. There's a lot of competition here. These guys are all good hockey players so they all have a competitive drive but it's about skill. It's about them working on something that they're going to use during the year, whether it's edge control, whether it's attacks, puck protection, different types of shots – it's all about them working on skills that they're gonna try to use during the year. This is their time to develop."

That compete level was obvious during a competitive shooting drill, as the players were quite stoked when they won the competition.

"We worked on some review on edges, and today's puck protection," said Jirousek.

"Before they go to camp, they want a full week of it, so we're thinking about doing another week," he added. "It's tough with the cost of ice. I don't make money off of this. It's about insurance, take care of the ice and get the guys out."

Jirousek said the amount of players participating seems to be increasing.

"We try to keep it to 12 but every day you get another guy calling ... I don't mind bringing the younger guys in so they realize where they have to get to but it's tough because they want their reps. That's what they work all summer for."

"We're gonna probably do another week where we just have more of conditioning and prepping them for the season, cause a lot of them leave right after that.

"A lot of these guys right away go to work right after (the camp), so it's a good commitment from them."

Lukas Jirousek, 21, a forward for the NCAA Division 3 Plattsburgh Cardinals in the state of New York, said he was "out skating with the guys, getting some skills practice in before heading out for the season ... it's pretty good. A lot of good hockey players. Good skill."

Jirousek said this off-season has been "the best I've ever had, for sure. It's nice getting out with these younger skilled guys and watching them develop at the same time as us older guys are getting our ice time too ... they learn from us, seeing different things we do in a game, then of course we can all talk ... I'll go skate with pro guys – it's the same thing. I'm watching exactly what they're doin' out there, just learning from those guys, getting a feel for the bigger boys."

Jirousek said the players were working on different aspects of puck protection.

"Just being comfortable with the puck away from the body and having pressure on you.

"I'm looking at improving my poise ... just having my head up all the time, being comfortable with my head up handling the puck so I don't ever have to look down. It's better because I can just see where the other team is, see where my own team is. It'll help a lot."

Jirousek has lofty goals for this season.

"I want to go down and win the SUNYAC. It's the college division that I play in. And win NCAA's. That's a huge goal for our team. We're looking at loading up this year. We have quite a few good transfers, like some guys from all over the place. A lot of Ontario guys. We're looking to be pretty good next year."

As for personal goals for Jirousek, "I'm looking to be an All-American this year. That would be pretty sweet if I could get that. All-Amercian, win the NCAA's. That's the main thing – go win a championship."

McKenna, 14, is the first Yukoner to be drafted first overall in the WHL draft. Mckenna, a forward, "just came here to practice and – I've been practicing four times a week, sometimes five and it's been early mornings every day, pretty much.

"I'm trying to work on my shot ... pretty much my shot is my main focus."

McKenna said his off-season's been good. "I had a little bit of a break and during that break, I was dirt-biking, side-by-siding and hanging out with my family but I'm starting to get back to work here."

The young phenom is still waiting to see if he'll be able to play more than five games this year in the WHL. "I'm playing in the home opener there, so I'm looking forward to that. Right now, my main goal is just to perform in that game so I get a name for myself out there. I'm just focusing on that home opener."

Landon Cowper, a 16 year old defenceman, said the camp has been "unreal. I love the training here. It's better than anywhere else in Whitehorse, for sure."

Cowper said it's hard to say if he'll be playing in the WHL this year.

"I've heard a couple different things. I'm hoping but, as of right now, I'm committed to playing another year at Rink Hockey Academy in Kelowna but I'm obviously hoping to play for Prince Albert. We'll see how camp goes."

Cowper said he's working on a few skills at the Whitehorse camp.

"Speed, agility, edge work, and my shot for sure. I want to get the pucks to the right position every time."

As for goals for this season, Cowper said "It depends where I'm at. I'll play whatever role I need to play. If I play another year in Rink, I want to be more productive on the offensive end as well as when I'm on defence and if I play for Prince Albert, I will play however they want me to play."

Josh Schenk, a 17 year old forward, plays for the Trail Smoke Eaters in the BCHL. He said he's looking to improve on his puck protection. "I'm a pretty big body, so I've got to use it to my advantage."

He said his off-season's been good.

'In the gym five days a week and workin' too, so pretty busy."

As for his goals for this season "really want to get my ice time up and be a second line player. Hopefully get a lot more points this year.

"My goal is to get committed (to) NCAA (Division) 1 this summer ... that's a big goal of mine. I've got three more years of junior if I need it but hopefully, not that much."

Luke Cozens, a 16 year old forward and younger brother of Buffalo Sabres star Dylan Cozens, said he's working on his skills and trying to get better for next season and "using my body more. Shooting, for sure."

Cozens said his goal is to play in the BCHL or WHL.

"But if not, I'll just go back to Yale (Academy)."

Coach Jirousek said there are plans in place for the players to get together again later in the year.

"We're definitely going to bring back this year the charity hockey game, where a lot of these guys come back at Christmas and they play against a senior hockey team and we'll pick a charity. Other than that, the middle of August, these guys are usually off to their teams and they do training down south as well."

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