After weeks of tryouts and cuts, the four Mustangs rec hockey teams have their 17 players to represent them in leagues and tournaments for the season.
“That’s the worst part of the whole season,” said atoms Mustangs co-head coach John Grant, referring to the necessary cuts. “We went through it last year and we had a number who didn’t make it and came back this year. And there’s a few that will probably be successful this year.”
Besides practice rinks and the equine mascot, the Mustang teams have a lot in common. Each of the coaches are pleased with their teams’ performances last year, but are hoping for even better this season.
Another similarity is that, for the third year in a row, each Mustangs team will be competing in leagues against older players. The Atom team will be competing in Whitehorse’s pee wee house league, the pee wee Mustangs will be in the bantam league and the bantam and midget Mustang teams will be in the men’s house league in the B and A divisions.
“This challenges them a little more,” said Grant. “Rather than have them play in the Atom house (league), it probably would be a little lopsided I think (if they did).
“We do that with every division.”
Good effort equals
success for atoms
“We tell them right at the beginning of the year, ‘We don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game,’” said Grant. “As long as you leave it on the ice and have given it 100 per cent effort in practice and every game. That’s all we care about.”
Although they will be competing against pee wee players in the rec league, the atoms will be facing teams of the same age when they compete in tournaments outside of Whitehorse, as they did last season in Juneau and Calgary.
“(In Calgary) we didn’t do very well, but we had a great time,” said Grant. “We saw what some of these elite atom teams looked like and that gives them an idea of the kind of work they have to put into their hockey.”
Playing against both atom and pee wee teams in the Juneau tournament, the Mustangs left with a winning 3-2 record.
“We didn’t win a lot of games (last season) but what we were looking for was effort and improvement in their play,” said Grant. “By the end of the year, we were close — we were in every game. Pee wee’s a little bigger, a little stronger, so we’re not going to out-muscle them. So we have to develop a skating team.”
With six or seven returners, the atoms have a good core of experienced atom players, which Grant find encouraging.
“I don’t know how we’ll do this year,” said Grant. “Personally, I think we’ll do better.”
Pee wee Mustangs hoping
to build off last
The pee wee Mustangs had the fullest tournament schedule last season, playing in a total of five.
“We had some ups and downs,” said pee wee assistant coach, Kirk Gale. “We improved over the year and … we were competitive at each and every tournament we attended.”
The team’s improvement can best be seen in their games against the Dawson Creek team, which they played three times last season. In the first two games against Dawson Creek, the Mustangs suffered lopsided losses. However, in the BC provincials at the end of the season, the Mustangs held tough against the Dawson Creek team, eventually losing by a single goal.
“And that was a game that could have gone either way,” said Gale. “So we certainly made some improvements in that regard.”
One challenge for the pee wee teams will be adapting to the physical play while playing outside of the Whitehorse bantam house league.
“There’s no hitting here in the house league, but when we go outside (of Whitehorse) it’s full-contact,” said Gael. “It’s a real eye-opener for our kids.”
Other than the BC provincials at the end of the season, the pee wee team hasn’t decided which other tournaments they will be participating in.
“Usually you’ve got to get in them as quick as you can because it doesn’t take long for all the spots to go,” said Gale. “Usually we’re able to get in a couple tournaments.”
Despite a total of eight returners to the team, the team cannot rely solely on strength to get wins.
“Whitehorse teams are renowned for their skating ability,” said Gale. “Our plan of attack is to use speed as one of our offenses.”
Bantam Mustangs will
strive for top four finish
Finishing second in the Arctic Winter Games behind Alberta last year, the bantam team is turning its attention to the BC provincials, in which the team’s performance was hindered by injury and illness last season.
“We finished out of medal at the (BC) provincials,” said bantam head coach Dave Pearson. “We ran out of steam at the end. So we didn’t finish as high as we thought we going to.”
For the first time in the bantam’s history, the team will be playing in the men’s rec league’s B division.
“It’s a little daunting because they’re playing against adults,” said Pearson. “But they’ll learn to compete for pucks and they’ll learn how to play against players who have more experience than them. It’ll be a good learning experience.”
The team will compete in three or four tournaments during the season and, of course, the BC provincials. As of yet, the only tournament the coaches have confirmed they will be playing in is one in Kelowna, BC in October. The bantam team competed in the Kelowna tournament last year and split their games, going 2-2.
“But we haven’t confirmed the other ones yet,” said Pearson. “We’re hoping to do the same or better this time.”
Despite having only four returners, Pearson is seeing lots of positives in the team and has even set a bit of a lofty goal for his team.
“We set our goal of being in the top four in BC (provincials),” said Pearson.
“It’s going to be a team of brand new Mustangs. Last year we had 13 returning players, so it was a strong team,” added Pearson.
“This year we don’t have the experienced players, but we’re looking pretty positively at the talent that’s coming out.”
still looking for coach
The midget Mustangs can only hope that they will have some of the same luck on the ice as they do off the ice.
Even though no one has come forward to coach the team, the midget Mustangs are nonetheless preparing for this season thanks to a man too concerned for the league to let the team dissolve.
“If we can find somebody’s who’s keen on taking it over and maybe learning the ropes, than I would facilitate that, but I don’t want the program to not happen this year,” said interim coach Jim Stephens. “But we’d be letting down too many kids. So as long as the coaching position is needed, I’m going to be there.”
Like the bantam team, the midgets finished second at the Arctic Winter Games last year.
“Last year they had a good team, a lot of kids who’ve played for three years,” said Stephens. “This year they’ve got a core group of kids playing. They’ve got good goal tending and a good set of defence.”
Speaking of which, Stephens has a few players in mind that will help the Mustangs bring in some wins.
“Jackson Glass is one of the top scorers on the team,” said Stephens. “Riley Toban will be one of stronger players.”
According to Stephens, Drew O’Connor is another player to watch, playing in his third season on the team.
For defence, Stephens lists Zach Moses, Daniel LeGoffe and Travis Parks as the ones to look for.
An interesting addition to the team is Corey Underhill who left hockey three years ago but is returning after a series of growth spurts.
“When he left hockey he was under five feet and now he’s like six-two,” said Stephens. “He should have a really good year.”
As they have for the last three seasons, the midgets will be playing in the A division of the men’s rec league.
“It’s a good league because there’s a lot of good hockey players the kids can learn from,” said Stephens.
“We need to start working on team systems and positional play. We’ll probably start off slow but gain momentum as the year goes on.”
Although the season’s tournament schedule has not been determined, Stephens believes the midget team will be competing in a tournament in Abbotsford, BC, sometime around Remembrance Day, as they have the last three years.
“It’s a good starting tournament for the kids,” said Stephens. “
Like the bantam Mustangs, the midgets are also hoping to get some extra outside competition by bringing up a team from Richmond, BC, to play, as has happened the last few years.