So we have a new program to help young hockey players play at a high level all season long and stay at home at the same time.

I’ve only been asking for that to happen for a long time.

You may take that to believe that I’m taking a dump on those players who get opportunities down south but I’m not. If anyone gets a chance to ply their trade in any sport in a southern locale where there’s the chance to get high-level coaching and playing time, go for it. Someone obviously thinks you’re worth the time and the risk so go prove them right.

The problem with that is – and I’ve written about this before – is that success breeds challenges. I wrote an article once about how the entire Yellowknife Wolfpack bantam development team was offered chances to play with teams in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. three years ago. Almost all of them took those chances and ran with it. I’m glad they did.

The only problem was the Yk Minor Hockey Association’s bantam house league division was depleted to the point where the Wolfpack peewee development team at the time, coached by Shawn Talbot, was asked not to play up in the bantam division because it wouldn’t be competitive.

McKinley Talbot, seen during the 2018 Arctic Winter Games in Hay River this past March, is part of the Yukon Rivermen, a new team formed by players from Yellowknife and Whitehorse that will play bantam AAA hockey all season long. James McCarthy/NNSL photo.

It was nobody’s fault. Players got the chance to go south and took it. The peewee development squad was better than the bantams that remained (it was the best of the best in peewee, after all). The bantam development team played in the midget division. It was your prototypical perfect storm.

Now, there’s the Yukon Rivermen and you’ll have read about it in today’s sports section. On the surface, this is perfect. It provides the top players in the bantam division a chance to join up with their colleagues from Yukon to play at the AAA level and they get to stay at home without the worry of moving down south and trying to hack it there.

The first big thing this does is solve the problem of kids going down south. Again, if they get the chance to go and it’s a good one, I say go for it and I sincerely hope they do well enough to make a go of it. Besides, I’ll be calling you if you do.

But the Rivermen program gives these players an option to stay at home, practice with their teammates, go to school where they were going to school before and save a lot of money for their parents in the long run.

Take a look at the prices for these hockey academies in the south and your eyes may bug out of your head. Some of these schools cost, on the low end, $35,000 per year. That includes everything: room and board, tuition, food, travel and uniform. The Rivermen program costs much less and it includes everything the academies offer except room and board. Parents are still responsible until the kids are 18 after all.

Another thing the Rivermen will give the young players is exposure like they’ve never seen before. When it comes to the Western Hockey League, all of the teams are drafting at the AAA level. You will almost always never see someone get selected in anything less than that unless they happen to be the best AA player the world has never heard of. All of the kids down south are at the AAA level and they’re getting noticed there, such as Jonah Bevington. He played at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Edmonton and ended up a draft pick of the Portland Winterhawks.

Junior scouts are all over the place and there’s a sizable chunk that make their way to AAA tournaments, meaning there’s every chance to impress a scout. We certainly have the talent on the team: Logan Cunningham, Matthew Gillard, McKinley Talbot and Taylor Catcher – yes, a girl made the team.

So all of the excuses about our players not having the chance to do it while living in the North should be tossed out the window because the time is now. This is our best shot to have a true Northern-grown player get a shot while doing their thing in the North. Are you excited?
You should be.

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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