The city, the facilities, the competition and the hockey community’s welcoming nature are all making Whitehorse a destination for northern hockey clubs.
With the season still not over, Whitehorse has had more than twice as many visits by minor hockey teams than last season.
“Our league’s been growing, having all the great facilities, and Whitehorse just being a great place to visit, is attracting attention,” said Carl Burgess, president of the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association.
“People want to come to Whitehorse because it’s a slightly bigger centre, there are three rinks here and we’ve been pretty welcoming. It’s becoming a hub. All northern hockey associations suffer from the same problem of getting competition and enough teams to play. Whitehorse is serving as that hub to make it happen.
“Folks, like in Fort Nelson, like to come to Whitehorse, both to hang around Whitehorse, the Canada Games Centre, and play hockey.
“We’re starting to realize there are advantages to promoting Whitehorse as a hockey destination.”
A Fort Nelson, B.C. team were the most recent visitors this past weekend.
The Fort Nelson Fury played a Whitehorse squad made up of players from all four teams in the atom division of the Whitehorse league. On Sunday the Whitehorse team also included players from the Whitehorse Atom Mustangs rep team.
The Fury and the Whitehorse team played four exhibition games at the Mount Lorne Community Centre on Saturday and Sunday. (The Fort Nelson team stayed in Whitehorse during the visit.)
“We’ve been trying to do it for years, maybe five years,” said Fury head coach Brad Stokes. “We finally had a group of parents willing to travel the 10 hours that it takes – that’s probably the biggest thing.”
With the Fury’s closest neighbour four hours away from Fort Nelson, the team is in a similar situation as Whitehorse teams that don’t get much Outside competition.
“Most minor hockey associations, like Whitehorse minor, are 100 per cent volunteer driven,” said Burgess. “The parents got in touch with the convener and all the parents got together to make this happen.”
The Juneau Capitals rep club has made numerous trips into the Yukon.
The previous weekend, Whitehorse played host to the Juneau Capitals’ bantams, who played four exhibition games against Whitehorse rec league teams. Juneau lost three and tied one, before defeating the Peewee A Mustangs 4-1.
Juneau Capitals were in the territory for the Yukon Atom Hockey Championships in Haines Junction a month ago. Juneau reached the final undefeated before dropping a three-goal lead and losing in a shootout against Whitehorse Black.
The Juneau Capitals and two Aldergrove Bruins teams from B.C. were in town to play Whitehorse Mustangs during Hockey Day in Whitehorse at the start of December.
“We’re working with the city to get summer hockey going too, and we think we’ll attract some people into summer hockey camps,” added Burgess.
Whitehorse was the centre of the hockey universe during the NHL lockout in November. About 10 NHL players were in town for a fun exhibition game as part of the First Assist Charity Hockey Fundraiser Classic, the final stop in a Northern Canada tour.
More Outside teams, including from B.C. and N.W.T., will attend the Whitehorse Native Hockey Championships beginning next week.
A Juneau Capitals team also might come for the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Championships at the start of next month.
As for adults, a team from Dease Lake, B.C. played – and made a final – at the Whitehorse Oldtimer Tournament just last weekend. Another Dease Lake team played in the Kiki Karnival Recreational Hockey Tournament in Watson Lake last month.
During the 2011/12 season the Aldergrove Bruins midget team was in town for a three-game series against the Midget A Mustangs in February of last year.
And an Alaskan female team, the Fairbanks Icebreakers, played a four-game series against the Female Mustangs rep team in November 2011.
The Whitehorse squad didn’t fair well against the Fury this past weekend, losing 14-0 and 15-2 on Saturday, and 8-2 and 13-2 Sunday.
“Part of hockey is learning how to lose and learning how to win,” said Burgess.
“We just have a good group,” said Stokes. “Every couple years you get a good group and this is our lucky year.
“We’re having a good season and we’re really happy to be here. The hospitality has been really good. It’s been really fun.”
Joey Schultz and Alex Petriw scored for Whitehorse on Saturday. Landon Marsh, Cole McCulloug, Keegan Bevilacqua and Cole Francis scored for Whitehorse on Sunday.
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