The Yellowknife Minor Hockey Association has had a development program in place for several years now and it’s brought about some rather impressive results.
If all goes according to plan, there could be something similar in Hay River.
Hay River Minor Hockey’s U13 development team hosted their counterparts from Yellowknife, the CR Oilers, over the weekend at the Aurora Ford Arena for the Great Slave Challenge. It was a three-game exhibition series designed to get those in the program some more games against some tougher competition. The development squad has been around for the past couple of years and the players have been practising early mornings and Friday afternoons with the goal of skill development and learning team tactics.
Tod Ashton, the team’s head coach, said it was a good weekend for the kids to see exactly what’s out there.
“We spoke with (CR Oilers coaches) Stu (Impett) and Jeff (Bowden) to see if they’d be interested and they were good enough to agree,” Ashton said. “It was a good learning experience for (the Hay River players) and gave them a chance to see what it takes to get to the next level.”
The action kicked off on Friday evening with the Oilers prevailing 10-1. The Huskies came out a better team in game two on Saturday afternoon, but the Oilers still managed a 6-2 victory. Game three on Sunday morning saw the Oilers skate away with a 5-1 win to sweep the series.
Bowden said the scores may look somewhat lopsided, but that doesn’t indicate how well the Huskies played.
“They came out firing in that first game,” he said. “We answered that with a couple of quick goals and won it, but they regrouped really well and gave us much closer games the rest of the way. That had 33 shots against us in that last game — any time a team does that, you know they’re on the way up.”
The Huskies had some reinforcements in the form of goaltender Will Gordon, who plays with one of the house league teams in Yellowknife, and some players from the Fort Smith Hawks.
The team had already tasted success this season, winning their home tournament earlier this month and in Yellowknife at the Carl Bulger Invitational Tournament in December.
But they didn’t play the Oilers; under the development format in Yellowknife, the Oilers play in the next age division up, U15.
“We beat their house league, but we wanted our kids to play the Oilers,” said Ashton. “They may have been overconfident a bit and this was a way for our kids to see that there’s another level they can strive for.”
Of course, no trip to Hay River would be complete without the hospitality the town is known for. The Oilers were able to leave their equipment at the arena, something Bowden said was much appreciated, and everyone got together for a pizza party between games with the seating arrangements switched up a bit.
“Instead of everyone sitting with their teammates, it was one Yellowknife, one Hay River, one Yellowknife and so on,” said Bowden. “Everyone got to know each other and hopefully, that feeds through to when they play Arctic Winter Games or Canada Winter Games together.”