The ink on the Mustangs rosters has barely dried, and already three squads are set for their first road trip of the season next weekend.
The atoms, peewees and bantams from the Whitehorse rep hockey club will compete at the 12th annual International Seafair Icebreaker Rep Tournament in Richmond, B.C., over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
The Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association booked the tournament in advance to ensure spots for the teams.
“It’s good to get a tournament early,” said Peewee Mustangs head coach Kirk Gale. “Whitehorse Minor Hockey booked them well in advance because it’s not always easy to get in tournaments sometimes. They fill up quick. So Whitehorse Minor took the initiative to make sure all these teams got booked, even before the team was picked.”
It’s an early start to the season, but the four Mustangs teams so far selected are all equipped with a fair amount of returning players.
Last season the Bantam Mustangs had just four returners. This season the team has a returning goalie, four defencemen (plus one part-time defenceman from last year) and seven forwards.
They also have size on their side, said head coach Martin Lawrie.
“One of the first things we noticed was how much bigger we are this year,” he said.
“We’re excited. We’re off to Seafair next weekend for a Tier 2 tournament, so we’re kind of jumping in the deep end right off the bat this season. I think most of the boys will be ready for it.
“I’m very encouraged. I liked how a lot of these guys finished off last year – the returning players – so I’m expecting them to play really well this year.”
Lawrie is working double duties this season. In addition to the Bantam Mustangs, Lawrie is working on creating a minor-midget team that will compete for Yukon at the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C., in February. Members of the bantam Mustangs will likely end up on the under-17 Games team.
“It’s a team dominated by first-year, 15-year-olds right now,” said Lawrie. “And we’ve called in a handful for 16-, 17-year-olds to fill out the roster.”
It’s a similar story for the Female Mustangs, which will fill the ranks of Yukon’s female team at the Prince George Games.
“For the time that I can remember we’ll have a full team – we’ll have 20 players – going to the Canada Games,” said Bouchard.
The Female Mustangs has 12 returning players from last year, many of whom played at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games early this year.
As usual, the team, which has players ranging in age from 11 to 17, is very representational of the territory. There are two players from Haines Junction, three from Dawson City, one from Faro and two from Teslin.
The Peewee Mustangs have 10 returning players from last year, including goalie Dawson Smith. The team plans to compete at three Outside tournaments before heading the B.C. Hockey Championships, which, for the peewees, are in Kitimat.
“We haven’t played any games yet this year, we’re still practicing, but the kids certainly are improving,” said Gale. “You can practice all you want, but you have to start playing some games to really see how the kids react to something different than the practice environment.”
The Mustangs organization has a pair of new coaches on board for the 2014-2015 season. Trevor Matthews is the new head coach for the Atom Jr. Mustangs and Derek Klassen is the new head coach for the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association and the Mustangs program.
“My son was involved in it last year, but I never really coached because I didn’t have the time, but this year I have the time,” said Matthews.
“We have six players that were on the team last year, so we have a good core of kids that have the rep hockey experience. And the core of new kids are good, they’re going to be good, coachable kids and should make progress fast.”
Klassen has taken over the role of Whitehorse Minor’s head coach from Clint Mylymok, who spent one season with the association. Klassen is a Whitehorse native and Mustangs alumni. Needless to say, he’s pretty excited about the job.
“It’s a pretty cool opportunity to get back involved,” said Klassen. “It’s something I didn’t expect to happen, but it came along and it’s been pretty fun so far for sure.”
“I’m just trying to see how everything is being run, where we can make improvements and where we can continue to do things we’re doing well.”
Following his time with the Mustangs, Klassen attended the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Saskatchewan, at which time he played AA and AAA hockey.
He also spent three seasons with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, pocketing a championship along the way.
Klassen then attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks on a hockey scholarship and captained the Nanooks team for three of his four seasons with the team.
“We’re putting a lot of emphasis on skill development with each individual player, that should help the program going into the future,” said Klassen. “We have some really good players and some awesome coaches, so I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish this year.”
Whitehorse Minor is putting together an open midget – under-18 – Mustangs team and hopes to have the roster finalized next week. A handful of the players currently on the Bantam Mustangs will likely be moved up to the open midget squad that will compete at the B.C. Hockey Championships this March.
In fact, Whitehorse has been selected to host the Tier 3 midget division of the provincials.
“Instead of B teams, we’re trying to make three bantam-midget teams: one bantam, one minor midget, one open midget,” said Whitehorse Minor president Carl Burgess. “The way it worked out is we basically have a minor midget team with a bunch of older guys on it and a bantam team. So we still have the same number of kids playing rep and we’re hoping if we get a coach and enough players, we’ll make an open midget team and put that together. And that’ll be the core group who compete at provincials here in March.”
In addition to the Tier 3 midget provincials, Whitehorse will also take part in the second annual Air North Challenge with three Whitehorse teams travelling to Yellowknife and three Yellowknife teams coming to Whitehorse, novice to midget, the weekend of October 24.
Also in the works is a peewee and bantam tournament next month in Whitehorse with teams from Yellowknife and Alaska attending.
The Atom Jr. Mustangs will also possibly host a Whitehorse International Atom Hockey Tournament for the second year in a row in early December. They hosted the tournament last November with teams from Fort Nelson and Wasilla, Alaska, attending. The Mustangs ended up winning the tournament with a narrow 3-2 win over the Mat-Su Eagles from Wasilla in the final.
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