Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Dustin Cook

ELITE EXPOSURE - The Yukon Rivermen Bantam Tier 1 team will open their inaugural season Friday taking on the Thompson Blazers at Takhini Arena.

The countdown is on: previewing the Yukon Rivermen’s inaugural season

Three days until the Yukon Rivermen open their inaugural season

By Dustin Cook on October 24, 2017

Three days until the Yukon Rivermen open their inaugural season at home and the new Bantam Tier 1 team is hard at work on the ice.

“The boys are a little bit nervous,” Rivermen head coach Martin Lawrie said. “I mean you want that, it’s a good thing.”

The Rivermen practised Monday night at Takhini Arena running physical drills in the corners.

The Rivermen will be a member of the seven-team Tier 1 league in the new B.C. Hockey Zone Program.

This is new in Whitehorse with most teams needing to travel down to B.C. for big games, but with the new league the Rivermen will host 18 home games throughout the season, consisting of a three-game series against each visitor.

“I think that just adds to it,” Lawrie said of getting the chance to play at home. “They’re going to have mom and dad here, grandparents here. We’re anticipating a fairly good crowd for Friday night’s game.”

Adding to the excitement, the Rivermen will be hosting the Thompson Blazers based out of Kamloops, who Lawrie said is considered the top team in the league heading into the season.

“We’re going in the deep end right off the bat,” he said.

But seeing if they can swim won’t be dependent on the number of wins and losses throughout the season, Lawrie said.

“I think the big thing for us going into the season is just making sure the kids can compete at this level. If it results in wins or good hockey games, I mean that’s awesome,” he said.

This is a new opportunity for the Yukon players to compete at such a high level and Lawrie said with it he hopes the players will be able to grow.

“I’m confident when I said I think our club will probably improve more than the other teams through the course of the season just based on the fact it’s our first exposure to this level,” he said.

Competing in a Tier 1 league will also provide more exposure for the team, including midget and junior league scouts.

“They know it’s happening, they know it’s there. I think they have humility to once the game starts, just play hockey and you kind of forget about who’s there and who’s watching until everything’s said and done and the game’s over, but they are aware of it,” he said.

As it is the first year for the league, final logistics are still being worked out, Lawrie said, but the plan is to play all six teams five times for a total of 30 games.

The Rivermen will host three games against each team and visit each team for two games.

The six other teams scheduled to be in the league are all located in B.C. representing northern regions including East Kootenay, Thompson and three regions in the Okanagan.

The 18-player roster is made up of Yukoners born in 2003, with four players born in 2004. Lawrie said they also have two defencemen from Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, B.C.

For team logistics, Lawrie said the main focus was to get the team ready for play, but a Rivermen logo will be developed throughout the season, and to start the year the team will don a jersey with a “Y.”

The team also expects to name a captain before the first game on Friday, Lawrie said.

“This is my first year with these kids, spending the last six weeks getting to know the kids and what they’re like on and off the ice and we’re starting to see a leadership group emerge,” he said.

The Rivermen currently have four home series’ lined up with the South Zone Knights visiting Dec. 1-3, the North Zone Kings visiting Jan. 27-28 and the Central Zone Rockets Feb. 3-4 with all home games set for Takhini Arena.

But first, it’s the Thompson Blazers coming up north for the opening series. Game 1 is set for Friday at 6:30, with Games 2 and 3 on Saturday and Sunday.

- By Dustin Cook

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