Yukon youth hockey to go ‘All Out’

If there's one thing keeping local youth hockey players from reaching the next level of competition, it's the absence of year-round play in the territory.

If there’s one thing keeping local youth hockey players from reaching the next level of competition, it’s the absence of year-round play in the territory.

At least that’s what’s motivating the newly established All Out Hockey Caps (or Capitals) Club Teams.

“Down south in the spring, all the boys have a chance to play spring hockey, which is AAA hockey and they don’t have to play with the guys they have been playing with all year. They get to play with various regions,” said head coach and founder Jakub Jirousek.

“They go to high-level tournaments and it continues their season. Being a hockey player nowadays is not just winter, a lot of it is extended right through (the off-season).”

Stemming from the All Out hockey school that Jirousek has run for the last two years in Whitehorse, the establishment of club teams for off-season play is a first for the Yukon.

This season’s a test run. The selection process for three teams is complete and a first tournament already scheduled.

The goal is to produce AAA level players in the Yukon, which, All Out hopes, will propagate high-level play within the territory in the future.

“We should be able to produce AAA calibre teams,” said Jirousek. “Other communities down south and in Alaska produce AAA caliber teams with smaller populations. What we always hear is that we don’t have enough competition, so our best teams have to travel two or three times a year to play. That’s what limits us, we’re mostly AA calibre.

“So what we’re saying is let’s remove that excuse. Let’s provide them with competition. Let’s give them a chance to play AAA hockey.”

About 35 Yukon players have been selected for the three teams, which accept athletes born in 1999-2000, 1996 and 1995.

While almost all of the ‘99/‘00 team will be Yukoners – most of whom have been in the All Out school for the last couple seasons – the two other teams will be half Yukoners, with the other half being made up from BC, Alberta and even Ontario players. (A player doesn’t have to be a member of the All Out school to be selected for one of the teams.)

“We take the best we identify and we put them into the Capitals Hockey Club,” said Jirousek. “You don’t have to do it to be part of this club.”

Aside from playing with other elite players and against elite teams, members will benefit from high-level coaching from Darryl Belfry, performance analyst of the NHL’s LA Kings and director of the National Hockey Institute, University of Lethbridge head coach Greg Gatto, Prince George Cougars general manager and head scout Wade Klippenstein, Lethbridge midget Hurricanes assistant coach Al Rypien, Whitehorse Mustangs coach Kirk Gale and former University of Anchorage Alaska player Jared Tuton.

In fact, a secondary goal is to increase the quality of coaching in the territory too.

“It’s off-season – we’ve never had that opportunity,” said Jirousek. “I don’t just want them to play in A or AA tournaments, I want them to play the best teams – AAA hockey.

“Unfortunately to do that, you can’t just take a Whitehorse team. We just don’t have enough AAA talent.

“So what we did is take the best we have – most of them are training full-time already. They are from the high-end of our rep teams.”

The first scheduled tournament, which all three teams will attend, is the OneHockey Spring Challenge international tournament in Spruce Grove, Alberta, May 6-8, featuring more than 100 teams, including American and European squads.

“It is an exposure for the first time to see how we stack up against high, AAA hockey,” said Jirousek. “It’s not just an opportunity to play high-level hockey, it’s an opportunity to play with really high-level players.”

The follow-up tournaments will be decided after Spruce Grove, taking into account the results.

“It really depends on how we play,” said Jirousek. “If we’re competitive and it looks like an experiment that will work – if our players, when challenged, will rise to that level – then we’ll keep pushing to play at that level.”

Before the Alberta trip, all the coaches and players from Outside will be in Whitehorse for a four-day camp.

All Out is a non-profit organization with no affiliation with the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association or the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association.

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