If there’s one good sign about the last-minute cancellation of Saturday’s All-Star game, it’s that local players must feel ready to compete outside of the territory.
The All-Star game, which would have been an exhibition game between the top players of the Whitehorse Summer Hockey League and the Northwestel Summer Hockey Schools, was the last chance to get some play in before the Yukon’s final sheet of ice was removed from the Canada Games Centre this week.
“Because so many people were looking for extra ice time, we were going to have enough for two teams, and call it an All-Star game,” said Joe Martin, an organizer and coach with the Northwestel school. “That’s what the Summer Hockey League is designed for, so these guys are getting what they need so they can compete down south.
“Unfortunately everyone already got their fill.”
Although only five players showed up for the extra ice time, the low numbers are in no way reflective of the dedication and skill of local players, said Martin, who can list success stories from school like he’s flipping hockey cards.
“Six years ago Ted Stephens, he would have been this big,” said Martin, holding his hand waist high. “Kane Dawe, Joe Densmore, Rob Warner—who’s now playing at St. Francis Xavier University—Jarred Tuton … the list just goes on and on.
“These guys are all playing high level junior hockey, and they were all part of the summer hockey school at some point.”
Stephens made local headlines at the start of May when the Whitehorse native, who plays in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the Moncton Wildcats, was invited to the Montreal Canadiens drafting camp.
“If things with the Canadiens don’t work out, Ted is going to have a huge year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League,” said Martin. “Ted, I think, can be a pro hockey player somewhere, but he’s also securing financial assistance by playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He can play four years there and that will give him four years paid for at any Canadian university.”
One high-level player that did come out for the All-Star game was Whitehorse’s Lawrence Brennan, 18, who’s on his way to play on the Wellington Dukes, a Junior A team in Ontario.
“I just wanted to get out (of the territory) and play,” said Brennan. “The biggest thing here is you only get to play maybe 20 games a year with the Mustangs (rep teams) because we’re so far away from everybody.
“Down south I was playing upward of 60 games a year, which really helps my game.”
Brennan, a student of the Northwestel school, sees it as a great way to stay on playing form over the summer.
“It’s easy because the school is in Whitehorse and you don’t have to travel outside,” said Brennan. “And it’s a great way to get your hockey legs underneath you half-way through the summer, and get ready for try-out camps in the fall.
“Joe’s done a great job the last couple years organizing the camp.”
As coach and general manager of the Creston Valley Thunder-Cats, Martin has seen first-hand, young Yukon players leave the territory for a higher level of hockey.
“It’s kind of been a pipeline for Yukoners, I think we’ve coached eight in the last two years there,” said Martin. “Hopefully this year we’ll have a total of maybe six—there’s a lot of good players this year.”
Similarly, Moncton Wildcats head coach Danny Flynn comes up for the camps, which opens doors for some players.
“He’s actually given opportunities for kids to try out (for the Wildcats), like Ted Stephens, who’s now playing there,” said Brennan.
Thinking towards next season, Martin is hoping to bring up the Creston Valley Thunder-Cats and another BC junior team, the Fernie Ghostriders, in January for some games in Whitehorse.
“It’s going to be a fundraiser for minor hockey and the Hospital Foundation,” said Martin. “It’s going to give Yukoners a chance to see junior hockey again.”
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