The first portion of the B.C. Bantam Zone Tier One schedule is now officially out and the Yukon Rivermen will be spending the month of November at home.
After opening the season in Kelowna, B.C., the last weekend of October with a four-game series against the East Kootenay Ice and Central Zone Rockets, the Rivermen will host the North Central Zone Cariboo, North East Zone Trackers and South Zone Knights in three weekend series throughout November.
Head coach Carl Burgess said the scheduling means more than half of the team’s home games will be before the end of the year.
“It’s just a quirk of all the teams, including us, putting constraints and conditions on our seasons,” said Burgess. “We go through a process of identifying all the tournaments we want to go to and negotiating home and away, and there are eight teams trying to juggle and optimize.”
The schedule also had to work around the upcoming Canada Winter Games and the available ice in all the communities, creating a scenario where the Rivermen play 10 games in 17 days.
“I think it’s more just it is a really hard start, but because it’s late everything is just compacted,” said Burgess.
Since returning from the John Ferguson Memorial Tournament in Edmonton, the team has been training extensively.
“Everyone has been building out our systems and building up our skills and our strength,” said Burgess.
The training regime has included strength training five mornings per week as well as starting pool training with Paralympic swimmer Stephanie Dixon.
This weekend, the Yukon contingent of the team will host their teammates from Yellowknife for some team-building and time together.
Things kick off Friday afternoon with a lacrosse game and will also include three on-ice sessions, pool sessions led by Dixon and off-ice conditioning sessions.
“Everyone has been practicing the same systems and the same game approach, so we’re going to have two games where we tune each other up — the two squads from N.W.T. and Yukon,” said Burgess.
Once the team has some time playing inter-squad games, they’ll play together to take a team of Rivermen alumni in an instructional scrimmage.
“It’s nice there are five or six Rivermen from last year still in town and they’re going to help us,” said Burgess. “We’re going to build a team around them.”
Aside from the activities related to on-ice performance, Burgess said management will also be getting team pictures and scouting packages started.
“This is the age, at tier one bantam, the scouts start looking at all the high-end tournaments we go to. They’re looking for scout packages, so that’s happened as well. It’s pretty exciting for the guys, probably too much,” said Burgess with a laugh.
With the new split between Yellowknife and Whitehorse, Burgess said full team practices would likely be worked into most road trips.
“It’s more cost-effective to go to a tournament early and meet somewhere and buy ice down there for a practice,” said Burgess. “If we can go 12 hours early, grab a practice, grab some team time and then start competing, that’s ideal.”
No one knows exactly what the season holds, but Burgess said the team is ready to get into game action.
“Things are looking good and they’re hungry for games, which they should be, because they have a lot of them.”
The Rivermen open the season in Kelowna, B.C., with four games from Oct. 26 to 28.
The first home series is Nov. 2 to 4 with four games against the North Central Zone Cariboo.
Other home games include three games against the North East Zone Trackers from Nov. 9 to 11 and three games against the South Zone Knights from Nov. 23 to 25.
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at email@example.com