Going the distance
Last Updated: September 30, 2008 3:54 PM
Lindsey Craig Coach Features
To raise money for flights and hotels, Pearson's
players bag groceries and pick potatoes. His son
Gibson, 14, is on the team. (Courtesy of Dave Pearson)When Dave Pearson and his team head to a hockey game, it's a little more complicated than driving to a neighbouring arena.
Instead, they board a plane, fly more than 2,000 kilometres, and spend a whopping $15,000.
That's because in Whitehorse, there is no neighbouring arena, no neighbouring team, nor any team, in fact, to play against.
As a result, Pearson and his bantam rep AA players travel to tournaments once a month. It costs each player roughly $1,000 per tournament, including airfare, accommodation, food, and tournament entry fees.
"Our challenge is real and constant," Pearson said, explaining that there aren't any other teams in the territory to play against because most of the Yukon's population resides in Whitehorse (roughly 28,000 of 34,000).
Pearson, 47, said the team travels, at a minimum, 2,000 kilometres to cities in B.C. (Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops) and Alberta (Edmonton, Calgary) to find teams of the same age and skill level.
They once avoided airfare costs by driving to Fort St. John, in northeastern B.C. Though it was the closest competition, it still meant spending 20 hours on a bus.
"As a coach, you must really commit to the program if you want it to be successful," Pearson said. "Fundraising is very important. So, as a coach, you take on that role as well, putting together a management group or parental group to make the year affordable."
To raise money, players don their jerseys and bag groceries for donations, pick potatoes at a local farm, work bingos and hold raffles.
"Our team is called the Mustangs, so we raffle off a Ford Mustang each year, too," Pearson said.
The level of commitment isn't new to the coach, who's a product of the same hockey system.
"I grew up playing here, so I'm pretty used to it - but that doesn't mean it's any less frustrating. It's just something you deal with living in the North," he said.
The sacrifices made, however, are more than worth it.
"I love hockey - the camaraderie with your teammates, going to tournaments together, the kind of experience it can leave with you. It's a special feeling," he said, adding that coaching his 14-year-old son, Gibson, is especially rewarding.
A typical season for Pearson's team involves one tournament in October, one in November and sometimes another just after Christmas. If they're lucky, they'll play in a January competition, too.
Looking for visitors
Come February, the team tries to turn the tables by enticing a team to Whitehorse. No break in fundraising here, however - Pearson's team subsidizes their visitors' costs.
With three to four games per tournament, it means 12 to 15 games each season - a major contrast to the schedule of an average Canadian team.
"I haven't experienced being with a team in the south, but I heard through the grapevine they would probably play 35 to 40 games," Pearson said, with a hint of disbelief in his voice.
In March, the team boards a plane again for the B.C. provincials, where they compete as a regional team. Their goal is to finish in the top four, though Pearson said they typically come between fifth and eighth.
Tournaments are carefully chosen because so much effort goes into preparation, both on and off the ice.
"With the cost factor being so intense, we really try to make sure that the trip is as positive an experience as possible. So, we try to find a tournament to match the level we play, so it's not overwhelming," he said.
With so few games per season, another challenge is keeping the team interested.
"Obviously, we practice a heck of a lot more than we play games," he said, noting that being creative and "fresh" with drills is crucial. "You have to keep their curiosity at bay so they don't bore."
The team practices twice a week, for an hour or slightly more each time. They're fortunate, Pearson said, to train in a "gorgeous facility" that was built when Whitehorse hosted the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
Pearson added that another bonus has been the chance for both he and his players to learn from Ted Nolan (who recently coached the New York Islanders) and Danny Flynn (head coach of the Moncton Wildcats), who have visited Whitehorse to conduct summer camps.
"For players who want to progress in the sport, it's a tough area. Here in the North, there isn't the same exposure," he said. "There's a lot of talented players here. You have to give them the opportunity to develop their skills."
For more on coach Pearson, read his profile.
For Pearson's favourite drill, click here.