Buffalo Sabres defenceman Brandon Montour was all smiles during a session of the Learning to Lead hockey camp in Whitehorse on July 24. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

Learning to Lead hockey camp returns to Whitehorse

“The big thing for me is loving the game and enjoying it every day — I think that’s huge”

The Learning to Lead Hockey Camp is back in Whitehorse for another year from July 22 to 26.

Hosted by the Yukon First Nations Hockey Association and Northwestel, the camp includes two ice times each day, lacrosse, swimming, games and guest speakers.

In Whitehorse for the camp are current and former professional players Arron Asham, Brandon Montour and Wacey Rabbit, as well as Ashley Callingbull, a model, actress and First Nations activist.

Rabbit, who played last season for the Jacksonville IceMen of the ECHL, has previously been to Whitehorse for the annual camp and said the year over year growth is good to see.

“I think every year it gets more and more kids and you also see the returning kids coming back and I think that’s a good thing,” said Rabbit. “On Monday, everyone is really shy with each other. … By Friday, they’ve made friends and they realize if they come back next year they’ll get to see them.”

Trying something new in a safe environment is what Rabbit wants to get across to campers the most.

“For them to get out of their comfort zone is the biggest thing and just to feel safe and be themselves and enjoy what’s left of the summer,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing that I bring and want them to take away.”

Montour, a defenceman for the Buffalo Sabres, said he wants kids to leave knowing hard work makes things possible.

“Working hard is obviously huge because (with) the amount of kids playing hockey, it’s a tough career to have and to stick with,” said Montour. “The big thing for me is loving the game and enjoying it every day — I think that’s huge.”

Camps focused on First Nations youth are gaining traction across the country, and Rabbit said there are a lot of positives to that.

“For me growing up we went to hockey schools, but I didn’t have aboriginal leaders that were leading a hockey school based around that,” said Rabbit. “It’s not strictly aboriginal here, but for me I had to go off reserve. Here, kids come here (and) they can be themselves.”

“I just want them to know that they can be themselves and they can be proud of who they are and where they come from. That if they’re from a small place in the Yukon or northern B.C., I come from the exact same place.”

Montour said he hopes he and the other guests can be role models for the campers.

“You have people like myself or Arron or Wacey or whoever it might be, just role models to show you can play a positive role and make a difference and make a name for yourself,” said Montour. “I know there are a number of places where all these kids come from, so it’s good to interact with other kids from other areas and be on the ice with them.”

As for Montour’s new teammate Dylan Cozens, he said he had lunch with the Yukoner just before traveling to Whitehorse.

“I got a chance to meet him and he seems like a good kid,” said Montour. “He came from here, so it’s pretty cool.”

After seeing the city, Montour and Cozens will have one more thing to talk about.

“It’s great,” said Montour about Whitehorse. “I didn’t really know what to expect because I’d never been out here, but just the views and the mountains and everything — you can’t beat it.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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