The Yukon Rivermen in game action against the Northeast Trackers at Tahkini Arena in Whitehorse on Nov. 10, 2018. This season, the Rivermen will play home games in both Whitehorse and Yellowknife. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Rivermen readying for third season in B.C. tier one zone league

This year’s team will again be a combination of Whitehorse- and Yellowknife-based players

For the third year in a row, the Yukon Rivermen will skate in B.C. Hockey’s bantam tier one zone league.

And, like last year, the team will be comprised of players based in Whitehorse and another group of players based in Yellowknife.

Travis Ritchie, president of Hockey Yukon, explained that the idea is to have a competitive goaltender and eight or nine players in each locale in order to create a team closer in skill to its southern rivals.

“What they found last season after mid-season — after Christmas — (was) the team had gotten to the point where they were becoming quite competitive and were doing well against their zone competitors,” said Ritchie. “That’s the plan this year — to continue that same process. Half from N.W.T., half from Yukon.”

Selections for the upcoming season started last week, as 18 players were on the ice in Whitehorse for evaluation camp from Aug. 20 to 24.

A similar camp is scheduled for Sept. 6 to 8 at the Mutiplex Arena in Yellowknife.

Like last season, the coaching staff will also be split between the two locales.

Mike Cozens is the team’s new head coach and will handle things in the Yukon, while a lead coach will take the reins in Yellowknife. The Yellowknife-based position has not yet been finalized.

On the ice, the idea is the same as last year.

“The two coaches will collaborate on a shared training and development plan,” said Ritchie. “Then they’ll execute the same plan in both locations over the course of the winter.”

The two squads will practise separately during the week, but like last winter, will use time away for games as an opportunity to squeeze practices as a whole team.

While the first two years saw the Rivermen travel all over B.C. for games, league organizers have simplified things considerably this year as all the Rivermen road games will be held in the central Okanagan.

“We’ll all fly down to Kelowna and all the various zone competitor teams will come into that area to play against us,” said Ritchie. “That’s really helped with logistics because our two squads have to travel the farthest; that’s a good evolution to aid in simplifying logistics.”

Also new this year is the addition of Rivermen games in Yellowknife. Ritchie confirmed both Whitehorse and Yellowknife will host a home series for the team.

With just one spot available at the B.C. tier one championships for the eight zone league teams, there is a very real possibility Rivermen players may be able to play in the 2020 Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse.

“We’re keeping the option certainly open,” said Ritchie. “If their season concludes afer the first round of playdowns in late February and early March, then they’ll be positioned to go on to the Arctic Winter Games team if they’re interested.”

Hockey at the AWG will include three divisions this time around – junior women, bantam men and midget men.

Evaluations for all three teams will be in December, with one set of sessions tentatively planned for the beginning of the month and one for closer to Christmas.

“All the local kids that potentially might be going away for Christmas can still get evaluated and don’t have to mess with their Christmas plans,” said Ritchie about the idea behind the two-weekend format. “We’ll hold an event closer to the Christmas holiday so we can evaluate all those players that are returning to visit their families.”

The B.C. bantam tier one zone league schedule is not yet finalized, but Ritchie said it will likely be available in early September.

The 2020 Arctic Winter Games are March 15 to 21, 2020 in Whitehorse.

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

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