Hockey fans in Yukon are going to see a lot of boys bantam league play this winter.
The newly formed Yukon Rivermen, mostly 14-year-olds, play their first games beginning Oct. 27.
They're part of a new tier one B.C. league structured to include players from smaller communities, including northern B.C. and Yukon, according to the Rivermen's head coach Martin Lawrie.
Their schedule will see six visiting teams playing 18 games in Whitehorse over the winter, with as many as 30 league games, said Lawrie. That may total 50 games overall when tournaments and the provincial championships are added in.
Lawrie said having that many home games makes a big difference because sending a Yukon team south for a weekend series costs between $18,000 and $20,000.
"When teams come up here and play and we just have to cover the ice and the referees, it's definitely more affordable. [It] definitely allows us to play more games," said Lawrie.
The players' parents, like hockey dad Chad Cowan, are happy the boys will get top level competition without having to go down south.
"Even if the performance isn't quite there yet, and the skill level's not quite there, at least they get that exposure to know what it's all about and then maybe be a little bit better prepared at the age of 15 or 16," said Cowan.
The Rivermen's first games on the Oct. 27 weekend will be against the top ranked Thompson Bantam Blazers from the Kamloops, B.C., area.
"We get thrown into the deep end right off the bat," Lawrie joked.
However, with the growing number of Yukon players going on to play junior hockey, the territory is gaining a reputation for developing good players. Lawrie said he believes that will only get better.
"I anticipate we're going to grow more than most of the other clubs because most of our boys haven't experienced playing at this level," he said.
They'll also get a lot more exposure to scouts and hockey schools, he said. Lawrie credits the success of Yukon players of recent years for helping to instill confidence in this bantam team.
The Rivermen can sign up up to 19 players. Most are Yukon players, but Lawrie expects to have one player from Fort St. John, B.C., and another from Dawson Creek, B.C.
Working with Lawrie are assistant coaches Jake Jirousek and Patrice Brunet as well as parents and other volunteers.