Charles Barkley once said he shouldn’t be looked at as a role model and I agree. Athletes shouldn’t be looked at as people to look up to because more often than not, they end up being some of the worst people to idolize.

But maybe that’s at the professional level, I don’t know. They’re still level-headed enough at the amateur/junior level that they perhaps haven’t been blinded by the money or the drugs or the extra-marital affairs and, yes, those vices are very much prevalent. I was good friends with a long-time National Hockey League player who spun some wicked yarns about life on the road.

Anyway, I’m now talking about a couple of young men who have either won or are on their way to something bigger than they ever could have imagined while playing in Yellowknife. I speak, of course, of Jack Works and Ethan Anstey.

If you’ve read these pages over the past few weeks, you’ll know Works and his Denver University Pioneers won the school’s ninth NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship in Boston earlier this month and it was Works’ first. Not bad for a freshman, wouldn’t you say? He found success quickly and while it won’t guarantee something like that happening every year, it’s something that can never be taken away from him.

It was a lot of fun covering Works and his team’s run to victory. He didn’t see too much action down the stretch because of a mixture of illness and injury but he did get the chance to skate out onto the ice and jump into the pile of players after Denver beat Minnesota State for the title. That’s every hockey player’s dream and it’s something I always loved doing after winning a championship. Sure, there’s the risk of injury but that’s why there’s the off-season.

For Anstey, he’s going to be playing in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League final with his Flin Flon Bombers as they’ll do battle with the Estevan Bruins for the big prize. The championship series starts this week and it’s going to be a tough slog because Estevan is a really good team. But it’s the playoffs and anything can happen. Besides, the Bombers have been on quite a roll, winning eight of their last nine playoff games, which included a seven-game winning streak. The playoffs are where you want to get hot as a team and don’t think the Bruins don’t know that.

But the trip to the finals came with a rather big bonus prize as the Bombers will get the chance to play in the Centennial Cup next month. That’s the Canadian Jr. A championship and they’re going because the Bruins are the host team. That’s great, but Anstey and company don’t just want to back-door their way in as lucky losers. There’s something to be said about being winners and if the Bombers can get that ring, that will be a huge boost of confidence for them and maybe even a bit of a psychological advantage.

I know I’ve said this before but these are two more examples of what being a young athlete can do and where it can take you if you stick with it. In the case of Works, he’s parlayed his hockey talent into an education at a big school where he will get a chance to be successful. It’s all fine and wondrous to be a star at a small school but Denver is an institution where success isn’t a hope, it’s an expectation. Works will become one of the big guys in coming years, which is how his junior career with the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) started out. Works wasn’t a star when he signed on but he was given the chance and by the time he became a 19-year-old, he was the go-to guy for the team.

For Anstey, it’s an example of how perseverance can pay off. When we were talking last week, he brought up the fact that Flin Flon is the third team he’s played for this year. It was a memory refresher: he started with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the AJHL before being traded to the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the B.C. Hockey League during pre-season, where he suited up with fellow Yellowknifer Sam Schofield. The Capitals dealt him to Flin Flon in January, and look where he is now.

I joked with him that he could still be with the Capitals and not going to the Centennial Cup (the Capitals were swept in round one of the BCHL playoffs). He laughed but got serious again when he said it’s all about the process and you have to stick with it. He’s right. It’s all a process. You’re going to go through trades and adversity and Anstey could have simply told Flin Flon to stuff it. But he went and look where he’s at now: on the cusp of a league championship and getting to play for one of the biggest trophies in Canadian hockey next month.

All of you young athletes who think they can’t go anywhere or can’t get a shot, remember this: these guys both got their chance. Devin Hinchey got his chance in squash and became one of the best junior players in the country. Tye Hand got his chance and got to play in the Western Hockey League. So did Logan Cunningham. So did Jonah Bevington. So did Ryan Strain. So did Mirsad Mujcin. Ali Kincaid got a chance in women’s hockey and played at Cornell University. Kiah Vail got her chance in women’s hockey and is now at the University of Ottawa. Kyra McDonald got her chance and is with the women’s hockey team at Trinity Western University. Mali Straker got her chance in basketball and is now at Laurentian University in Ontario.

The point I’m making is that you can get a chance and when you do, take it. We have several examples of what happens when you get a chance. So look up to them. Talk to them. Ask them how they did it, how they made it work, what they had to do, etc. You’ll find they are more than happy to talk about it and pass on any advice. My advice is take it seriously. I stole that last part from Kevin Koe, who told me that once, but you have to take it seriously. Play like you mean it.

And, you, too, could be like either Jack Works or Ethan Anstey or Ali Kincaid or Mali Straker or …

James McCarthy

I've been hanging around the office as the sports editor for the better part of the last 16 years. In August 2022, NNSL Media decided to promote me to the managing editor's position, which I accepted after...

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