Bright future for minor hockey
A Camrose Minor Hockey player shows off their shot during the hardest shot competition at the Kodiaks and Vikings second annual Family Day skills competition with Camrose Minor Hockey at Encana Arena Camrose on Feb. 18. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
After producing 10 players for the 2017 Western Hockey league bantam draft, the strength of the Camrose Minor Hockey Association returned to the younger levels this season.
Of the six league banners earned by local minor hockey players this year, five of them were at peewee and younger levels. The one exception was the Bantam Wildcats who finished second in the Rocky Mountain Female Hockey League North Division. The Wildcats also were as close as CMH got to a provincial title, as they went 4-0 in the round robin portion of their bantam B championships before falling 3-1 to the Lloydminster Steelers in the semifinal.
Earing a Northern Alberta Interlock league titles were the Novice Tier II Vikings and the Atom Oilers, who edged out Camrose-rival Atom Knights for the tier V East title. The Peewee Drillers finished third at the tier I level while the Atom Vikings brought home a tier I consolation banner.
"If you have success at a younger age, it encourages you to keep playing," said CMH president Paul King. "We try to build our program to develop kids to play the game."
There were about 500 players registered for hockey in Camrose this year, which is par for the course. But King says there was a large influx of young players which helps build the foundation for the future of the sport in the city.
Key to their success this year was the introduction of Tim Green as mentor for the coaches and players.
"The feedback we've gotten from those teams involved in that was really good," said King.
The injection of new talent is critical as the latest wave of top talent moves on. It is becoming a bigger and bigger challenge for small cities like Camrose to hold onto their top players through high school graduation. Despite a record-setting bantam AAA CDAC Red Wings team last year in which eight players were drafted, most of that talent moved on to academy teams or AAA programs in the Edmonton area, where they continued to cement their elite status as Ty Yoder lead the Canadian Sport School Hockey League Elite 15 division with 74 points in 34 games while Ty Marcinkowski was a perfect 18-0-0 with a League-best 1.49 Goals Against Average and a 0.933 save percentage – second in the CSSHL.
This meant for a tough season for the CDAC Red Wings (7-23-6) at the minor midget level. Still there were strong performances from the likes of Callum Gau (11 goals, 19 assists in 34 games), Kale Hurlburt (13-15-28 in 33 games) and Tyler Bourages (16-8-24 in 31 games) among others.
It is a difficult situation for minor hockey to navigate.
"Our biggest problem here is we don't have the number of players at the elite level … to compete," said King.
A big positive, however, is that it still shows the level of player that is being produced in Camrose with a record high drafted in the bantam draft, six locals dressing for the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Kodiaks including five regulars, and Parker Kelly being the latest alum to sign an NHL deal.
"Those kids from five to 10 look up to the guys that play on the Kodiaks and (University of Alberta-Augustana) Vikings," said Kings. "The more of our local players that are playing on that Kodiaks roster gives us more reasons to go watch."
Another big bright spot is the development of the girls program. The Bantam Wildcats led the way, but the Atom Wildcats also had a strong showing at provincials going 2-1 through their round robin, but were eliminated on a tie-breaker. It has been a long process of building the girls game in Camrose, as they struggle to find enough all-girls teams at the younger levels and enough players to stock a midget team.
"This year we launched the first novice girls program, they had a lot of fun but success wasn't easy to come by because they played in a league with boys," said King. "In chatting with their coach, he was thrilled with how it went … we just need to find them some equal competition."
King has one more year of his two-year term to serve as president, but there will be seven board member positions open at this year's annual general meeting on April 25 at 7 p.m. in the Border Paving meeting room. Early bird registration for the 2018-19 season is June 19 and 20 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Max McLean Arena.
King says they are hoping to recruit more referees to minor hockey, particularly for some of the older age groups.
"We've got lots of good, young officials, but guys who are a little bit older we are having trouble getting those to stay in the game because of family and careers," said King. "That 27-40 age group is the group where we could use some officials at."