Whitehorse to get Tier 1 bantam hockey team

Introducing the Yukon Rivermen. You’ll be hearing a lot about them come next hockey season.

Introducing the Yukon Rivermen. You’ll be hearing a lot about them come next hockey season.

The Rivermen will be a Tier 1 bantam team based in Whitehorse that will play in the inaugural season of the B.C. Hockey Zone Program, B.C. Hockey announced Tuesday.

At the helm will be Whitehorse’s Martin Lawrie as head coach.

“B.C. Hockey has been looking at a potential Tier 1 bantam league across the province, including the Yukon, for I believe a couple years now,” said Lawrie. “There’s a recognition that there’s a lot of really good hockey players kind of caught in minor hockey associations that have Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4 options, and not Tier 1. And some of these kids get lost in the shuffle.”

The decision to introduce a Tier 1 program was made after a successful regional pilot project this past season in South Okanagan in which area hockey associations collaborated to compile a Tier 1 bantam team.

The Rivermen will be one of eight teams in the bantam (ages 13-14) zone league next season. Players from Yukon, Alaska, N.W.T. and northern B.C. will be eligible for the team.

“Along with the North West, East Kootenay and the Okanagan, the Yukon Zone Team will participate in the pilot program aimed at giving opportunities for players to join regional teams which was developed to allow players to play at the highest level and allows districts to provide regional teams and pull from a greater draw zone,” reads a B.C. Hockey press release.

The Rivermen will likely play over 50 games a season. The current plan is to have a 28-game regular season — with half of those at home in Whitehorse — plus playoffs and tournaments.

They will be the first Yukon team to be part of a structured league with Outside teams since the Claim Jumpers junior B team that played in the Western States Hockey League in 1998-1999 and the Northern Pacific Hockey League in 2000-2001.

By contrast, the Yukon Mustangs rep hockey club — a Tier 3 program — will tend to play three or so tournaments in a season followed by the B.C. Hockey Championships.

Lawrie has coached multiple Team Yukon and Yukon Mustangs squads, including the first from Yukon to win gold at the B.C. Hockey Championships in 2015.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Lawrie. “Just the different format of being able to play in a league, it definitely changes how you handle your team, prepare your team, compared to heading off to short competitions. It’s going to be my first opportunity to coach in league play since coaching novice or atom house league.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

B.C. Hockey is also introducing a Tier 1 midget league, but Yukon has struggled in recent years to assemble midget level rep teams because so many elite players at that age leave the territory to play down south.

“We have so many of our midget hockey players leave the territory to play competitively in a number of different programs in western Canada,” said Lawrie. “We looked at it and realized it would be unlikely we could put together a Tier 1 midget hockey team.”

The Yukon Rivermen identification camp will take place Aug. 4-6 at Whitehorse’s Canada Games Centre. Players can register at the B.C. Hockey website.

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com

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