The Wolverines is not your typical atom hockey team.
Besides being an exclusively First Nations team in its inaugural year, it doesn’t play in a Whitehorse league, and players range from novice to advanced.
“It’s a progressive program,” said Wolverines coach Randy Merkel. “At the top of the team, the better players they are rep players, right down to kids that are just learning how to skate.
“The first half of the season we started to bring the kids up closer in skating ability and those sort of things. In the second half we started introducing strategic play and, maybe, we’ll work a break-out into their system.
“They’ve come an amazing distance already, they’re working really hard, they deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve done. And they’re really enjoying it too.”
Although the team is meant to create better players, when organizers think of the future, skills are not all they have in mind.
“There is a desire by the organizers—their parents for the most part—they want to see these kids stick together right up to when they graduate out of minor hockey,” said Merkel. “Maybe this group of kids, and others that join them, will have a chance to become Mustang hockey players.”
All that aside, perhaps the biggest innovation is being made off the ice.
While parents of rec players have to pay upwards of $4,000 a season, Wolverine parents have no such bill to pay.
“The organizers of this have managed to keep the cost minimal, so the parents are welcoming it too,” said Merkel. “They raised the money to pay for the ice time and haven’t charged the parents. They raised all the money, as far as I know.”
That money has come through such fundraising initiatives as bagging groceries and organizing concession stands at local events. Further financial boosts have come from donations and the use of connections.
“I’d don’t know if there’ll be any fees to go to Anchorage, I’m not sure,” said Merkel. “We’ve got hotel rooms organized for 35 bucks a night because I have a friend that owns a hotel there. That’s one of the things that helps.”
Some of the Wolverines’ schedule has yet to be put in stone, but they have committed to an atom tournament held in Anchorage, Alaska, starting February 13.
“Then we’re talking about a tournament near the end of the season in Prince George or something like that,” said Merkel.
“What helps is having parents work as a team,” said a parent of a Wolverine player who did not wish to be named. “When you have parents work as a team, they put in different skills and abilities that they have. Everybody contributes to the team and it’s a matter of teamwork.
“So the kids are learning from the parents, and the parents are learning teamwork at the same time.”
Since players’ ages vary from eight to 10, it has not been decided whether the team will move up to pee wee next year or remain in atom. Obviously, either move might leave some players behind who are too young or too old to play.
“They may be an atoms team next year, I’m not sure,” said Merkel. “There are some kids right on the line and the team splits there.”
Wolverines down Huskies in exhibition games
Playing in their third and fourth exhibition games of the season, the Wolverines picked up two more wins over the Haines Junction Huskies Saturday at the Canada Games Centre. The Wolverines won their first two encounters in Haines Junction at the end of last year.
In their first game Saturday, once the score reached about 7-1 in favour of the Wolverines, they stopped keeping score.
The following game that evening was more balanced, finishing 7-2 for the Wolverines.
“(Passing) is the big message going out right now,” said Merkel. “Last game they scored a whole pile of individual goals earlier on in the day. This game was dedicated to passing.
“This was a better game; they had a better goalie in.”
Cruz Goodman topped the Wolverines for goals, scoring his team’s final three goals, starting with one in the second.
“The fact of the matter is Cruz jumps into the play and makes himself available,” said Merkel. “Some nights he’ll go in there and can’t score—can’t score for a day or a week
—then all of a sudden the puck goes in.”
Wolverines’ Kaine Comin, who also plays for the Mustangs, led his team in points, opening the scoring and then assisting a goal by Henry Itsi in the first. Comin then assisted Goodman’s two third-period goals for a total of four points.
“Kaine’s a creative player,” said Merkel. “He’s very talented—he has a vision of the ice. He’s also a very good listener.”
Other Avalanche scorers were Ryan Troke and Jesse McQuaig, who also registered an assist.
Taylor Sembesmoen scored the Huskies’ two goals, beating goalie Josh Telichi with backhands in the first and third.
“It’s really good and I like being part of this team,” said Goodman, who also plays on Yukon Appliance in the atom house league.
“We’ve gone through half the season and it’s been good so far,” said Wolverines’ Daniel Moses, who finds the time to play on the Mustangs as well.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com